Posts Tagged ‘casey stoner’

2010: Lorenzo enjoys a late lunch at Jerez

April 25, 2017

© Bruce Allen

Filet of Rossi on Lap 21; Roast of Pedrosa on Lap 27 

The Gran Premio bwin de Espana at Jerez de la Frontera on Sunday was a hash of the worst and the best that MotoGP has to offer.  The first 22 laps were an absolute parade with virtually no lead changes and little drama, aside from guys pushing 200 mph on two wheels.  The last five laps were a masterpiece by Jorge Lorenzo, who moved from fourth place to first for his first win of 2010.  In the process, he again demonstrated the patience and strategic thinking he has lacked until now.  It appears that his development as the heir apparent to Valentino Rossi may now be in its final stages. 

Sunday was a perfect day on the dazzling Spanish Riviera.  The usual suspects had qualified well on Saturday, led, somewhat surprisingly, by homeboy Dani Pedrosa, who apparently solved the suspension problems that had plagued him all year.  Pedrosa was on the pole, followed by Lorenzo, Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi.  Nicky Hayden, Randy de Puniet and Colin Edwards completed Tranche One on this round, and it looked as if the long-suffering Pedrosa might enjoy his first day in the sun since his win last year at Valencia.

Recall that Round 1 in Qatar had left Casey Stoner gasping for air, Valentino Rossi looking impregnable, and Jorge Lorenzo sporting the long-awaited maturity he had lacked as recently as last season.  Lorenzo’s balls-to-the-wall racing style had secured second place in the world in 2009, but the three DNFs he recorded in his reckless (not wreckless) style had probably cost him the championship.  At Qatar, Nicky Hayden looked rejuvenated, Andrea Dovizioso looked threatening, and rookie Ben Spies looked ready for prime time.

As they say here in Spain, “Bienvenido a Espana.”

For the bulk of the first 20 laps today, it was Pedrosa, Rossi, Hayden, Lorenzo, Stoner and Dovizioso going round and round.  There was some action in the seven-to-eleven spots, but I’m generally too busy to pay much attention to that stuff.  Several riders went walkabout early on, including the soon-to-be-late Loris Capirossi and Aleix Espargaro.  Pramac Racing’s Espargaro recovered and re-entered the race, only to spend most of his day working feverishly trying not to get lapped by Pedrosa.  Ben Spies retired on Lap 7 with mechanical issues.  By Lap 20, the guys in the row front of us started passing big joints around, noticeably bypassing us.  One of the gorgeous brunettes (a dime a dozen in these parts) in the stand next to us was fiddling with her split ends.  “Off in the distance, a dog howled.”

Suddenly, it became obvious that Jorge Lorenzo had found something.

On Lap 10 he had passed Hayden without breaking a sweat, and began patiently lining up Rossi.  By Lap 21 he was on top of Rossi, and then past him.  Pedrosa, who led all day by more than a second—plenty in MotoGP time—led Lorenzo by .8 at that point.  I was thinking it would end up Pedrosa/Lorenzo/Rossi, a nice day for the hometown crowd, when Lorenzo left Rossi in his wake and drew a bead on Pedrosa.

Everyone knows the depth of enjoyment Jorge Lorenzo experiences passing teammate and arch rival Valentino Rossi.  Judging from how Lorenzo handled himself on the last three laps of this race, it’s possible he enjoys taking down Dani Pedrosa equally well.  Teammate or countryman?  Countryman or teammate?  Who really knows what’s going on in Jorge Lorenzo’s head?

Not that it matters.  Both Lorenzo and Pedrosa performed as expected in the last five laps of the race.  Lorenzo exerted his will on his bike and his countryman.  Pedrosa rode well in the lead and folded when it mattered, running wide in a late right-hander and allowing Lorenzo through, conceding the path to the win.  Talking a brave game all week long and then lacking los cojones at the moment of truth to hold his ground and force Lorenzo on to the brakes.  The book on Dani is “doesn’t like to mix it up in the corners.”  The book had it dead right today.

All in all, it was a great day to be a Spanish racing fan.  Early in the morning, it was 18-year old Spaniard Daniel Ruiz starting the day by winning the first Rookie’s Cup race of the season.  Pol Espargaro took the 125cc race while many of the fans were still finding their way to their seats.  Toni Elias, fresh off his crash in Qatar and nursing a bad wrist, battled Thomas Luthi and Shoya Tomizawa all day and finally prevailed for his first Moto2 win before his home fans, most of whom were delirious with joy at the end of the race.  Lorenzo and Pedrosa took the top two spots on the premier class podium.  And although the fans claim to prefer Pedrosa to Lorenzo, as Jorge hails all the way from Barcelona, for God’s sake, it appears they’ve grown a little weary of Pedrosa’s mad Chihuahua routine, his underdog-singing-the-blues rap.  There was no shortage of Lorenzo fans in today’s crowd.

Elsewhere on the grid, Pramac’s Mika Kallio had a great day, starting dead last and finishing 7th.   Marco Melandri recovered from a dreadful outing in Qatar to finish 8th today.  LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet qualified 6th and finished 9th, making him two for two this year qualifying better on Saturday than he raced on Sunday.  Alvaro Bautista recovered from a last lap fall in Qatar to finish 10th and claim the Top Rookie of the Week award from Hiroshi Aoyama, who won it at Losail but struggled today, finishing 14th.

The top five finishers in a great 17 lap Moto2 race today included Elias, Shoya Tomizawa, Thomas Luthi, Yuki “Crash” Takahashi and Simone Corsi.  The race was red-flagged early due to a pile-up involving some nine bikes, the first of what promises to be many such collisions in the overcrowded Moto2 field.

The crowd seemed as interested in the 125s today as they were the big bikes.  Espargaro claimed the top spot on the podium, flanked by two other Spaniards, Nicolas Terol and Esteve Rabat.

On to Le Mans for Round 3.

Lorenzo and Stoner Getting Along

November 22, 2016

In this article from Motorsport.com it says Jorge Lorenzo is interested in expanding Casey Stoner’s role in the garage. Sounds great to me.  Two of the best of all time in MotoGP putting their heads together as teammates.  Somewhat frightening if you’re, say, Valentino Rossi or Maverick Vinales.

By way of idle speculation, what would the paddock think if in 2018 the factory Ducati riders were Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner?  On the latest iteration of Gigi’s magic hand.

stoner-lorenzo-test-valencia-nov-2016

Photo courtesy of Stadiosport.it

 

Adrianna Stoner must have a pair of ViseGrips on Casey’s package in order to keep him off the track in the current set-up, with Dovizioso coming off contract at the end of the year. Partnering with Jorge Lorenzo on a very fast Ducati factory team would make most riders happy.

Casey, apparently, not so much.  Go Adrianna!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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 Jerez Preview

April 19, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dog Bites Man – Lorenzo to Ducati 

So Jorge Lorenzo’s move from the factory Yamaha team to the factory Ducati team is now old news.  Maverick Vinales appears set to abandon the Suzuki team to take Lorenzo’s place.  We don’t know which of the current Andreas laboring for Ducati will be dislodged next year, but Sam Lowes has been tagged to move up from Moto2 to unseat either Bautista or Bradl on the Gresini Aprilia.  Dani Pedrosa’s seat with Repsol Honda appears to be in play; Suzuki is said to covet him or Dovizioso for 2017-18.  With several up-and-comers expected to graduate from Moto2 along with Lowes—Alex Rins and Johann Zarco first and foremost—the silly season is becoming more interesting than the 2016 championship season itself. 

Especially if Repsol Honda’s luminous Marc Marquez strolls out and dominates Jerez this weekend.  Which is entirely possible, after what he’s shown us recently in Argentina and Texas.  He appears to be, ahem, back.  The looming question as the season rolls into Round Four: who will be Marquez’s teammate starting next year?

Recent History at Jerez

Dani Pedrosa won a close 2013 affair after going through on polesitter Lorenzo on Lap 6, Marquez running third.  The three spent the next 20 laps in that order, coloring in between the lines, but the heat began to take a toll on Lorenzo’s tires, and he appeared to be struggling as the race wore on.  Pedrosa and Marquez, on the other hand, looked fresh and, on Lap 27, the rookie began lining up Lorenzo as if he wasn’t a defending double world champion.  The two traded positions in Turn 6, Lorenzo refusing to yield.  But in the Jorge Lorenzo Corner, of all places, its namesake ran a smidge wide and Marquez, lizard brain calling the shots, dove inside.  As Lorenzo attempted to cut back, the two touched, the Mallorcan being forced wide into third place for the day and the season.  To say he was unamused in Parc Fermè is a serious understatement.

The 2014 race featured an incandescent Marquez winning easily from pole, on his way to starting the season 10 for 10.  Rossi managed second place for his second podium of the young season; at that time we had no idea he would end up on the rostrum 13 times on the way to finishing second for the year.  Pedrosa went through on Lorenzo late in the day for the last podium spot, another indication that 2014, despite being even-numbered, would not be the Mallorcan’s year.  Coming on the heels of his crash in Qatar, a flailing 10th place finish in Austin and a desperate 3rd in Argentina, Lorenzo’s 2014 season was over before it had fully started.

Last year’s race was pure vintage Lorenzo.  Qualify on pole, get out in front early, attach bike to rails, press “Go,” and keep the last 26 laps within half a second of one another.  Regular as a piston, as dad used to say.  The resulting procession left Marquez (nursing a broken pinkie on his right hand) alone in 2nd and Rossi likewise in 3rd.  Cal Crutchlow managed a respectable 4th place on the Come What May LCR Honda, with Tech 3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro closing out the top five.  My prediction of having two Ducatis on the podium was met with derision, as Maniacal Joe Iannone topped the Italian effort in 6th place, teammate Dovizioso having gone walkabout on Lap 2 on his way to a disappointing 9th.

The Big Early Contract Effect

From our Department of Undiluted Speculation comes this idea that riders signing big fat new contracts early in the season go on to underperform that year.  While our crack research department is looking back at earlier instances of this, we have in front of us two credible examples, with a possible third in the works:

  • Valentino Rossi re-ups with Yamaha weeks ago and is assured of a sweet ride through the end of 2018. Coincidentally (?) he’s off to his worst start since 2001, ignoring the lucrative Ducati dumpster fire of 2011-2012.
  • Bradley Smith, late of the satellite Yamaha team and moving on to richer pastures with the nascent factory KTM project next season, has amassed 16 points thus far this year. In 2014 he had 20; last year he was at 26.  Something has interrupted his trajectory, and I think it’s the money, a semi-conscious effort to avoid crashing before the big payday arrives.
  • On Monday it was announced that Lorenzo had signed his deal with Ducati, in exchange for wheelbarrows full of euros, 12-15 million at last estimate. The end of the 2015 season left the proud Spaniard’s ego bruised, with Yamaha unable to celebrate his championship in a “suitable” fashion while Rossi fumed and spat about a Lorenzo/Marquez conspiracy to deprive him of the title.  Jorge chalked up seven wins in the last 15 rounds last season.  It says here he will fall short of that mark this year.  On some level, conscious or otherwise, he may wish to punish Yamaha for their reverence of his rainmaking teammate and rival.  Saving himself for his new love and avoiding risk this season would manifest such desire; a rejuvenated Marquez would increase the possibility.

Maverick Vinales may prove the exception to the rule, as he is still trying to earn his Alien card and likely feels a good deal of loyalty toward the Suzuki team that sent his star rising.  If and when he signs his deal with Yamaha, I would expect him to keep pushing for podiums and wins, which may be within his reach at some circuits on the calendar.  He’s young enough not to fully appreciate the risks inherent in his sport, and has, as far as I know, not a single gram of titanium in his body.  Compare this to Dani Pedrosa, 20% of whose body weight is metal.  When Dani goes through airport security, klaxon horns blare and the lights start strobing.

The Kentucky Kid Gains Traction

Fans of Nicky Hayden will note that he recorded his first WSBK podium this past weekend at Assen, pushing him up to fifth place for the season.  Having watched him jump on a cruiser and immediately break the rev limiter at the AMA Indy Mile a few years ago, I thought Superbike would be a walk in the park for a guy who’s been riding since he was three.  Not so.  But he seems to be figuring it out, and few North American racing fans can be sorry to see him doing better.  You’ll not find a nicer, more accessible guy in the paddock than Nicky Hayden.

Your Weekend Forecast

As of this writing, the weekend forecast for Jerez de la Frontera is pretty much ideal—dry with temps in the mid-70’s.  They’ve been racing bikes at Jerez longer than at any other circuit outside Assen, though her glory has faded somewhat in recent years as the Spanish economy bottomed out.  Having attended the race in 2010, when Lorenzo came from WAY back to overtake Pedrosa on the last lap, I would be reluctant to count Jorge out this weekend.  My personal forecast is for an all-Spanish podium, one which includes Maverick Vinales.

The race goes off early Sunday morning EDT.  We’ll have results and analysis later in the day.

MotoGP 2016 Rio Hondo Preview

March 30, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo looks to extend his lead in Argentina

After a convincing performance in the Qatari desert two weeks ago, defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo confronts one of his demons this week.  The Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina, running as usual at the shiny new-ish Termas de Río Hondo, operates outside of Lorenzo’s Land.  One of five venues on the 2016 calendar where Lorenzo has yet to taste victory in the premier class (quick–name the other four*), Lorenzo will have his work cut out for him this weekend. 

d7f9e438-0c47-467c-8916-2e7aa309cf6aLorenzo imageHaving tested at Losail just weeks ago, the grid had a reasonably good idea what to expect from the standard ECU and Michelin rubber when the lights went out in Doha.  Not so at Rio Hondo.  Friday will mark the first time the riders have set foot on the Argentine asphalt in 2016.  We are reminded of how Repsol Honda star Marc Marquez acquainted himself with the place in 2014 when the track first opened.  He strolled around in 14th place during FP1, then cinched everything up, lowered his visor, and topped the charts in FP2, FP3, FP4, Q2, the warm-up practice and, finally, the race itself.  Caution will be the order of the day on Friday morning. Marquez swims across the line

Lorenzo’s pursuers in the 2016 chase—Ducati Andreas Dovizioso and Iannone, Marquez, teammate and nemesis Valentino Rossi foremost among them—have reason to feel optimistic heading for the southern hemisphere.  Both Marquez and Rossi have won here, in 2014 and last year, respectively.  Repsol Honda mighty mite Dani Pedrosa finished less than two seconds behind Marquez in 2014 and in front of both Lorenzo and Rossi.  Dovizioso claimed a clean second place finish last year, while Honda tough guy Cal Crutchlow was busy punking Iannone at the flag for his only podium of 2015.  Iannone, especially, having crashed out of the lead in Qatar, needs to make up some ground this week to cut into Lorenzo’s 25 point advantage.  God knows he has the bike upon which to do it.

Not Riblets—Winglets!

Ducati wingletThe feng shui (Japanese for “latest fad”) in MotoGP these days are these little wing thingies that have sprouted from the front fairings of just about every bike on the grid over the past few years.  According to Matt Oxley, former rider and current paddock layabout, the appendages on the Ducatis are suspected of producing dirty air—read: turbulence—for trailing riders.  Many of us are accustomed to hearing this concept applied to racing yachts and fighter jets, but this is a new finding in MotoGP.  Matt cites anecdotal evidence that such turbulence came close to unseating Dani Pedrosa in Australia last year.

Several thoughts on this subject:  Why are the Ducs being singled out for causing problems, while none of the other manufacturers, all of whom are sporting riblets winglets, stand accused?  Sure, the Ducatis flirt with low Earth orbits on long straights, as we saw illustrated vividly at the end of Lap 1 at Losail.  But such would appear to be a matter of degree; it’s not like they’re breaking the sound barrier.  (Yet, anyway.)  Could this be a case of, ahem, “intelligent design,” deployed to discourage other riders from hitching a tow behind Iannone or Dovizioso?  The strakes are prohibited in Moto2 and Moto3; why, then, are they permitted on the fastest bikes on the planet?

The irony here is that subsequent to the tragic Marco Simoncelli crash at Sepang in 2011, Dorna and Grand Gouda Carmelo Ezpeleta announced their intention to reduce speeds and make the sport safer going forward.  Instead, they allow enhanced aerodynamics which improve traction, while the engineers beaver away to squeeze horsepower and torque out of the engines.  The result?  Iannone hits 218 mph in the warm-up at Losail, Dani Pedrosa is allegedly getting tossed around like a ragdoll in the wake, and the sport looks to be setting itself up for another pointless fatality.

MotoGP bikes are fast.  Fans are unable to distinguish between a motorcycle traveling at 190 mph and one traveling at 200 unless they’re running side by side.  Enough already with the winglets.

Speaking of enough already, Cal Crutchlow’s lament in Qatar that he crashed because “the bike didn’t know where it was” reveals just how Space Odyssey the electronics have become.  (“I’m sorry, Dave.  I’m afraid I can’t do that.”)  I, for one, hope it becomes fashionable in the future for the riders to do more and the ECUs to do less, before MotoGP becomes just a big, noisy, expensive video game.

Pity Danilo Petrucci

PetrucciOne rider for whom I had high hopes this season is Danilo Petrucci, Scott Redding’s teammate on the Pramac Ducati team.  Despite having averaged 23 points a year during his first three premier class seasons, all of which were spent on execrable machinery, someone at Ducati saw something in him and gave him a ride on a second hand Desmosedici last season.  He went from having earned 17 points in 2014 to 113 and a top ten finish last year.  With an even stronger bike beneath him, I thought him capable of finishing between sixth and tenth this year.

Alas, bad luck intervened.  Petrucci smashed his right hand in a late pre-season testing crash, and did it again trying to return too soon in Qatar.  He is now out indefinitely, his place being taken by highly qualified Ducati test rider Michele Pirro.  The melody you hear in the background is the Colonel Bogey March being whistled by Casey Stoner, standing around, under contract to test for Ducati but unwilling to return to the track.  Virtually identical to the situation when he was testing for Honda and Dani Pedrosa broke his collarbone.  Married readers may detect in all this the invisible hand of Adriana Stoner, who, it must be assumed, has assured Casey that in the event she ever sees #27 on a race day track, the only function left to be served by his didgeridoo will be urination.

Questions in Search of Answers in Argentina

In no particular order:

  • Are any of the other Aliens strong enough to mount a serious challenge to Lorenzo this year? This would seem a good place to begin to find out.
  • Can Iannone (or Dovi) challenge Lorenzo mano à mano on Sunday, assuming he keeps his bike shiny side up? The Alien Club beckons.
  • Have Maverick Vinales, Scott Redding and Hector Barbera improved as much as we thought during the offseason?
  • Is Dani Pedrosa beginning to show signs of wear? Since the end of last season, which he finished strong, his testing and early season performance has been distinguished, in my dad’s words, only by its lack of distinction.
  • Who gets the last slot on the grid for next season? The name Tito Pons keeps surfacing, with either Pol Espargaro or Alex Rins the favorites to man the bike, whatever the bike turns out to be.  A brixxer would be nice.
  • The weather forecast for the Esteros environs calls for hot and mostly dry conditions on Friday and Saturday, with cool, wet air moving in for Sunday. Will the weather get in Lorenzo’s way?  The Ducs are voting in favor of rain.
  • Cal Crutchlow’s bike had an existential crisis in Qatar. Can it find itself this week in South America?
  • And what’s up with Aleix Espargaro? Maybe it’s the ECU, maybe it’s the tires; whatever it is, he needs to get with the program.  His wingman is making him look sick.

For those of you still able to watch on live TV, the race goes off Sunday at 3 pm EDT.  We’ll have results here by 6 pm EDT Sunday.   Instant analysis, free of charge, and worth every penny.

*COTA, The Sachsenring, Red Bull Ring and Sepang.  You thought I forgot.

RossiQatarPole-567x300

 

MotoGP 2016 Season and Losail Preview

March 16, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” 

Here we are again, nosing around the garage area and the vicinity of the start/finish line, anticipating a full new season of MotoGP.  Everyone is optimistic.  Everyone is putting their best foot forward.  The power brokers, the likes of Yamaha’s Lin Jarvis and Honda’s Livio Suppo, are maintaining low profiles, keeping their powder dry in case—this probably of more concern to Suppo than Jarvis—their 2016 project turns out to be a dumpster fire.

How have things shaped up as the season started in years past?

victory helmet2013–Heading into the season, with Stoner gone and Marquez arrived, defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo looked ready, willing and able to repeat, with chase coming from Pedrosa, Rossi and Marquez. Rossi would take most of the year to get comfortable on the Yamaha in his first year back from Ducati purgatory.  Pedrosa and Lorenzo got hurt in the Netherlands and Germany.  Marquez made it look easy, snatching his first world championship as a rookie and assaulting the record books across the board.  Crutchlow, Bautista and Bradl were expected to make some noise at some point, and mostly didn’t.

2014–defending champion Marquez starts by reeling off 10 straight, then coasting to an effortless championship followed by Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa, about as expected.

2015, it turns out, is not the three-peat envisioned by most Marquez fans.  He crashes out d7f9e438-0c47-467c-8916-2e7aa309cf6aLorenzo imageof several races early, concedes the early lead to Lorenzo, concedes more to Rossi, and watches helplessly as the title devolves into a Rossi vs. Lorenzo scrap.  He mixes it up with Rossi on several occasions, the Italian getting the better of all of them.  Rossi and Lorenzo head into Valencia essentially tied for the lead but with Rossi having been severely punished for events in Sepang, resulting in him starting last on the grid and ultimately finishing fourth, with Lorenzo cruising to both the win and the championship, Marquez at his wing.

What Have We Learned During All This Winter Testing?

25vinalesmaverick__gp_6818_originalSeveral things.  Lorenzo appears to be the man to beat.  Maverick Vinales intends to stick his nose in some podium contests and appears to have sufficient machine beneath him to do so.  Rossi, Marquez and Iannone appear destined to battle Vinales for second and third. Scott Redding may have found the right bike at the right time to propel him into a consistent top six performer.  (Remember him during his last season in Moto2 when he would ride the wheels off in the turns then get eaten alive in the straights.)  Dani Pedrosa needs to stay upright all season long if he wants to finish in the top four, otherwise he is destined for a second division seeding along with:

  • Andrea Dovisiozo
  • Cal Crutchlow
  • Aleix Espargaro
  • Pol Espargaro
  • Hector Barbera
  • Bradley Smith

Danilo Petrucci would have been in this group had he not broken his hand, and still might end up here.  Michelle Pirro will sub for DP in Qatar.

Those Aiming for Points Alone

The third tier, looking to make it into the top 15, will include Eugene Laverty, Loris Baz, Yonny Hernandez, Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat.  Bradl sounds confident, but it smells of baloney.  Rabat says his goal is top ten finishes—he has his work cut out for him.

Winning at Losail—What Does it Mean?

Only three of the last eight winners at Losail went on to title in their respective years—ossi-vs-marquez-di-sepangStoner in 2011, Lorenzo in 2012 and Marquez in 2014.  Since they are also three of the last five, it’s clear to me that past performance has little to do with future performance.  Recent performance, however, might well have something to do with performance this year.

Let’s just say this.  If young Mr. Vinales challenges for the win in Doha, that is significant.  A track built nicely for the Ducs and Yamahas, the Suzuki has not enjoyed a great deal of success in the desert.  A second place finish would put pressure on the Aliens behind him, as well on teammate Aleix Espargaro, who is not getting nearly as much from his identical ride.

I also think there is room in this championship for a second division rider to compete toward the top of the timesheets.  I’m thinking here of someone like a Barbera (or a Redding) for whom the standard ECU is an improvement.  Perhaps Barbera’s practice times in Australia were more indicative of what he’s able to produce now that the electronics are mostly equal.

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And, let it not go unsaid that whichever teams get accustomed to the Michelins the quickest will end up doing the best.  This is what separates the factory Yamaha and Honda teams from the rest, the skill of their teams at finding settings that work over race distances.  On whatever rubber you got.  The Ducatis seem not to mind the Michelins.

Clearly, with 13 crashes in Australia, most of which were blamed on tires, Michelin has plenty to do as well.  Riders will need to beware on cold morning outlaps in the northern latitudes.

Silly Season Silliness

With almost all the primary riders in contract years in 2016, rumors are flying already about who’s gonna sign where and when.  Jorge Lorenzo seems to be giving ground to his masters at Yamaha, first insisting he needed a deal in hand prior to the start of the season and now, suddenly, agreeable to some mid-season negotiations.  Rossi is saying two years or nothing from here; Yamaha has not leaped into his arms as of this writing.

Herve Poncharal has delivered an ultimatum to his pair of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro:  The future is now.  If you cannot deliver podiums on a regular basis I will need to find riders who can.  As boss, Herve has the right to express his opinion.  My opinion is that both factory Yamahas, Marquez, a couple of the Ducatis and maybe Vinales are better than either Smith or Espargaro.  Asking the Tech 3 riders to produce consistent podiums is asking a lot.  Perhaps Poncharal is thinking more in terms of creating vacancies for Vinales or Rins/Zarco/Folger.

alex-rinsVinales and young Alex Rins in Moto2 are in the wind, pretty much everyone’s best guess as to Aliens-in-Waiting.  An aging Dani Pedrosa (dearly coveted by KTM for 2017) at Repsol Honda, a seriously aging Rossi at Yamaha; at some point the suits are gonna pull some plugs.  Plus, it’s impossible not to wonder when Casey Stoner, watching riders he considers barely his equal go flying over the handlebars trying to get it on with the Michelins, says “lol” and climbs back onboard for a wildcard at Phillips Island.  Could throw a spanner into the works of more than one rider at that point in the season.  Easier to envision if doing so were to provide him an opportunity to interrupt a Yamaha or a Honda on its way to the title.  Stoner could easily add some extra testosterone to the mix.

And what about Marquez?  Easy to see him spending his career at Honda, assuming he wants to.  What if the RC213V remains un-rideable for the next three years?  What if Yamaha or Ducati establish some genuine dominance in the category?  Is it so hard to visualize young Marquez in Yamaha blue or Ducati red?  Not for me.

Ducati, with eight riders working for them, has some keepers and some others.  Iannone, Petrucci, Redding and Baz appear to be capable of top ten finishes.  My pick as the next Ducati shining star is Iannone, but he needs to make something happen this year.  With KTM joining the fray next season interested in poaching high profile riders, and several riders talking about moving from World Superbike (Johnny Rea) and Moto2 (Johann Zarco, Rins) there could be new faces on any number of the Ducati teams.  Especially now that it’s not viewed as a career killer.

So I expect Honda to make a spirited run at Marquez and Yamaha to do the same with Lorenzo.  Beyond that, teams may keep their powder dry and wait/see, or look to strike pre-emptively and roll the dice on a Vinales or a Rins or a Bradley Smith or Pol Espargaro, someone capable of giving them regular looks at podia on the right bike, and with plenty of upside.

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The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that Qatar is anyone’s race and 2016 is anyone’s season, most especially Jorge Lorenzo.  Will Marquez and Rossi find themselves drawn to one another, magnetically, Rossi spoiling to continue the 2015 vendetta?  Do Marquez, Vinales and Iannone have enough to challenge Lorenzo on a regular basis?  Is this Rossi’s “one season too many?”  Does Ducati push Honda out of #2 in the builder’s competition?  Is the Suzuki under Vinales for real?  Is Dani Pedrosa still relevant to the title conversation?

My only prediction is that due to the tires and the ECU, we won’t see very many processions, and we won’t have someone, other than perhaps Lorenzo if everything goes perfectly for him, run away with the title in the first third of the season.  My annual hope, for no parades and a tight title fight, looks pretty good right about now.

My second only prediction is that the top four will be comprised of Lorenzo, Marquez, Vinales and Iannone, perhaps in that order, with Rossi and Redding or Smith fighting for fifth place.  In retrospect, my pre-season predictions—2013 predicting Lorenzo, 2014 and 2015 Marquez—are usually poor.  One for three among the current lot.

There will be plenty of video and plenty to discuss in 2016.  We look forward to enjoying your comments if, as Jim Rome used to insist, you have a take, and you don’t suck.  Profanity is never welcome, but contrasting points of view, especially those that are well-written, are always appreciated.  As I’ve discovered over the years, MO has a pretty serious readership when it comes to the finer points of this stuff.  So, watch the races, bring your comments, and let’s share…lol…

The race goes off at 2:00 pm EDT; as this goes to press the TV availability is problematic.  We’ll have results, analysis and commentary right here late Sunday.

MotoGP 2015 Phillip Island Preview

October 13, 2015

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo needs to win big this week and next

Movistar Yamaha idol Jorge Lorenzo, he of the two fairly recent world championships, has a steep hill to climb to set up a climactic finale to the 2015 season in Valencia. Which, in turn, necessitates opening a can of whupass on his legendary Italian teammate and rival, Valentino Rossi this week in Australia and next time out in Malaysia. It’s hard to envision Rossi, at this stage of his career, allowing an 18 point lead to disappear in two weeks. Sure, I know, that’s what Marquez almost did last year; my money’s on the old guy anyway.

Recent History at the Australian Grand Prix

2012. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, pressing, trailing Lorenzo by 23 points with two rounds left, in full “win or bin”

2012/10/20 - mgp - Round16 - Sepang - MotoGP - Casey Stoner - Repsol Honda - RC213V - Action

Casey Stoner circa 2012

mode, crashed early, his day and season over in one fell swoop. Stoner won for the sixth consecutive time at Phillip Island. Lorenzo finished a comfortable second and clinched the title, becoming the first Spanish double world champion. Other than Stoner’s Honda, it was two/three/four for Yamaha, as Lorenzo captured second, Cal Crutchlow in the Tech 3 Yamaha took third, and his Tech 3 teammate Andrea Dovizioso crossed the line fourth.

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

2014: Marc Marquez crashes out of a four second lead on Lap 18 as his Bridgestone front seems to turn to glass. 23 Rossi 2014riders start the race; 14 finish. Thus relieved of the pesky Catalan wonder, Valentino Rossi led a trio of Yamaha M1s over the line, joined on the podium by Lorenzo and premier class podium virgin Bradley Smith, who whipped his Tech 3 Yamaha to his first premier class podium. Ever. None of it really mattered, as Marquez left Down Under ahead of chaser Lorenzo by 18 points on the way to his second world championship.

A Little Perspective

That Phillip Island is a Yamaha-friendly track is virtually beyond dispute, now that Casey Stoner has retired. Both Rossi and Lorenzo have enjoyed success in Australia, Rossi’s mainly coming in the pre-Stoner days until winning last year. Jorge Lorenzo is capable of winning at any track in the world. He is MORE capable of winning at a circuit like Phillip Island so well-suited to his riding style. If he gets out in front on Sunday, and the creek don’t rise, he’ll probably take an easy win. Rossi doesn’t need to win; he just needs to figure out how to stay close to the front. In front of Lorenzo, as always, is better than behind Lorenzo.

It is easy to imagine this being a race Marquez wants to win badly. After a ho-hum fourth place finish in Japan on Sunday, Marquez remains winless at Motegi in the premier class, followed this week by Phillip Island as the only two venues where he has yet to win in the MotoGP class. At Motegi, the story was the weather. This weekend the story will probably be the track, as Phillip Island is the fastest track on the calendar, and the Yamahas love it here. The intra-team battle at Movistar Yamaha promises to overshadow any other considerations. Beyond the weather, it will pay to watch tire degradation, as the Yamahas suffered last time out. The new surface at Phillip Island is highly abrasive; the Hondas, especially the minute Pedrosa, may enjoy an advantage late in the day when fuel loads have dropped and tires are going south.

In dry conditions, it still seems that the Aliens—Lorenzo and Rossi, Marquez and Pedrosa—continue to dominate the proceedings. Pedrosa made Lorenzo’s job harder last week by winning at Motegi, taking the win away from the Mallorcan and pushing him to shred his front tire early, allowing Rossi to go through late in the day.

Up until Sunday, Lorenzo was telling the world that all he needed to do was to win the remaining rounds to be world champion. Now, even that daunting task will not be enough, as he needs a Repsol Honda between him, winning, and Rossi, dropped to third place in this scenario, the only one that presents a realistic shot at this thing. Unless Rossi crashes… In short, Lorenzo has now lost control of his destiny. He needs to run the table and hope Rossi suffers some misfortune.

I can’t speak for everyone here, but what I want this season is for Lorenzo and Rossi to head to Valencia tied. Winner take all in Spain. The neatest, most simple way for this to occur is for Lorenzo to win, Marquez or Pedrosa to place and Rossi to show in each of the next two Pacific rounds. I don’t want Lorenzo (or Rossi, for that matter) to arrive in Valencia with some mathematical chance of winning, any kind of slim possibility or puncher’s choice.

I want them going there dead even.

That would be a race.

All of which means Lorenzo needs to win in Australia and hope for help from one, or both, of the Repsol Honda guys, who are clearly capable of providing such help. They’re equally capable of winning the daggone race, which would make Lorenzo’s job even harder, trying to stretch 20 points to reach as far as 25 would go. As is almost always the case, all Lorenzo can really do is go out and try to win the race. Any effort to control what might be going on behind him, by, for example, coming back to the pack, is unlikely to pay great dividends.

Alex de Angelis

alex-de-angelis (1)After watching Alex de Angelis go handspringing through the gravel in practice at Jerez in 2010 along with the remnants of his bike, I thought he was indestructible. (Search YouTube for “Alex de Angelis practice crash Jerez 2010”) And he walked away from that one. We read yesterday that his condition following his crash in FP4 at Motegi is now rated “critical,” and that he has blood on the brain, broken vertebrae, a punctured lung, and more.

These guys risk their lives every time they suit up. We have noted in this space often in the past that the difference between the best and the worst in this sport is razor-thin, a couple of seconds per lap. This is the chosen profession of every rider out there; only a handful get to compete at literally the highest level in the world. Alex de Angelis has been one of those men. Add him to the list of people we must try to be nicer to.

We presume that Alex will recover and return to racing, if not this year then next, and send our sincere best wishes to his family, his team and his fans.

Your Weekend Forecast

High temps will be dropping from the 90’s on Thursday to the low 70’s on Sunday, with the best chance of rain on Saturday. The wind, as always, will be blowing hard from a different direction each day of the weekend, possibly becoming yet another factor in a pivotal contest.

Valentino Rossi, enjoying life with the lead, can afford to be strategic this weekend. No need to ride the wheels off his bike to take a win unless it’s Lorenzo in front of him and he just can’t help himself. For Jorge Lorenzo, the playoffs begin this week. Staying close to the front is no longer an option. He needs to run the table, praying for good weather and all things Spanish.

Pedrosa, Rossi and Lorenzo ready to rumble for 2nd place

October 18, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Phillip Island Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

In what is likely to be a preview of the rest of the decade in MotoGP, three Aliens not named Marquez will begin their assault on the vice-championship this week at Phillip Island. Heading into Round 16 Down Under, a mere three points separate Yamaha ironman Jorge Lorenzo from teammate Valentino Rossi, who sits tied with Repsol Honda mini-Marc Dani Pedrosa. While world champion Marc Marquez’ mom dusts off some space in the family trophy case for the 2014 hardware, there’s plenty of racing left this season. victory helmet

Late in 2012, while MotoGP legend Casey Stoner was busy winning his sixth consecutive Australian GP here, we suggested it might be fitting to rename the track Stoner Island, an idea widely ignored in Australia but adopted, strangely enough, in San Marino, which renamed its own circuit in memory of the late Marco Simoncelli. Given the fact that Simoncelli missed his chance to win a premier class race, while Stoner’s victory count is somewhere in the 40’s, you wouldn’t expect much resistance to the idea from the locals, who have precious little else to brag about. A couple of tennis players from back in the 60’s, maybe. Whatever.

Who, you may be wondering, holds the record for the second-most wins at Phillip Island, presuming Stoner owns the record? I mean, after all, we’re squarely in the midst of trying to generate some excitement over an impending battle for second place in 2014. So, again, who has the second most career wins at Phillip Island? Casey Stoner, that’s who, with his six. Valentino Rossi, with seven, holds the record, with one win having come in the 500cc class in 2001 and two in the 250cc class in 1998 and 1999. OK, so Stoner had the most premier class wins; we’ll give him an asterisk for his trouble.

Now, for $500 and the game, who won the race in 2006, in between Rossi’s four in a row and Stoner’s six? Nicky Hayden? No, dude has only three career wins in the premier class, none of which came in Australia. Dani Pedrosa? No, he was a sullen, aggressive rookie in 2006 and finished 15th that year. Drum roll, please…the winner of the 2006 Australian Grand Prix was… Marco Melandri onboard the Gresini Honda.

More Recent History at Phillip Island

STONER_PI2012 marked the last of Stoner’s six wins at his home crib. That year, Jorge Lorenzo struggled to second place, some nine seconds in arrears. Five seconds behind Lorenzo was Cal Crutchlow on the Tech 3 Yamaha, scoring his second career podium in the premier class that day. Pedrosa, pedaling as hard as he could over the second half of the season to catch leader Jorge Lorenzo, lost his marbles on Lap 2 and saw his day and his season come to another dismal end. The best race-in-the-race that day saw Andrea Dovizioso win a thrilling run to the flag, punking both Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl and their respective Hondas by a few hundredths of a second.

Last year’s race was a fiasco from start to finish. Over the previous winter, the track owners had invested $3 million resurfacing the circuit, making it the grippiest, fastest circuit on the calendar. And, incidentally, the most rubber-hungry surface on earth. With its host of high-speed bends, the riders were generating enormous amounts of heat in the tires, which were decomposing beneath them as fast as the crews could put them on. Bridgestone, in its infinite wisdom (read: unwillingness to spend the money testing their tires on the new surface), arrived in Australia to a symphony of complaints, ranging from Carmelo Ezpeleta to the kid who drives Jorge Lorenzo’s scooter in the pit area.

By Sunday, Race Direction was issuing Orders of the Day every half hour. The race was shortened from 27 laps to 26, then to 19, then to 19 with a mandatory tire change by the end of Lap 10. The teams set up two bikes for each rider, each equipped with soft tires and half a tank of gas, and the lights went out. As Lap 10 was ending, Lorenzo and Marquez were leading, running shoulder to shoulder. Lorenzo exited into pit lane as Marquez, inexplicably, kept right on going, only to pit at the end of Lap 11.marc-marquez-black-flag

The combination of a flurry of ad hoc rule changes being translated into three or four different languages with riders’ lives and millions of dollars of machinery hanging in the balance proved too much for Marquez and his team, whose late tire change resulted in a black flag DQ on Lap 15, handing the race to Lorenzo. The win kept the Mallorcan in contention for the title, which he only grudgingly surrendered two weeks later in Valencia. Pedrosa and Rossi made up the rest of the podium, with Rossi pipping Crutchlow and Bautista at the finish for the only satisfying moment of the entire day.

You Heard It Here Last

We have been somewhat derelict in keeping up with the rider changes happening in the second echelon of MotoGP in preparation for the 2015 season. This is due in part to the fact that every single motorcycle publication on earth has published the abundant team press releases, including ourselves. At this point, all but two or three seats have been claimed.

Familiar faces changing livery for 2015 are headlined by Cal Crutchlow and Stefan Bradl, as the Brit takes over for Bradl on the #1 LCR Honda and Bradl downshifts to join Forward Racing. Danilo Petrucci goes from the Ioda Racing frying pan to the Pramac Ducati fire, where he will join Yonny Hernandez on the junior Corse team. And Aleix Espargaro gets to realize his dream of riding for a factory team, as he moves from Forward Racing’s Open class machine to the new Suzuki GSX-RR.

At least four new faces will grace the grid next season. The Drive 7 Aspar team is giving Hiro Aoyama the boot in favor of Eugene Laverty, who joins the premier class, alongside teammate Nicky Hayden, after several productive seasons in World Superbike. With Paul Byrd folding up his tent next year, we are spared the sight of two Lavertys on the grid, as brother Michael is “evaluating opportunities” in WSBK and British Superbike, i.e., scrambling to find some kind of ride on road courses rather than dirt ovals.

Up-and-coming Moto2 grad Maverick Vinales brings his game to MotoGP joining Aleix Espargaro on the factory Suzuki. Forward Racing, having ejected Colin Edwards and, in turn, been jilted by the elder Espargaro, will make a go of it with Bradl and Frenchman Loris Baz, all 6’3” of him, who will try to fold himself around the Yamaha powered machine, elbows and knees sticking out all over the place, sure to remind some of us of Super Sic the way he used to look on his Gresini Honda. But without question, the highest profile rookie heading into 2015 will be Jack Miller, the young Australian skipping a grade, moving directly to the premier class from Moto3 on a three year deal, the first of which is likely to be spent in various hospitals around the globe. Crikey, but that’s a steep learning curve, Mr. Miller.

Fausto Gresini, in his eternal quest for Italian riders for his satellite squad, has abandoned his relationship with Honda in favor of a low budget operation with Aprilia for the next few years, with Alvaro Bautista somehow retaining his #1 seat with the team, a second rider yet to be named. Scott Redding moves to Marc VDS Racing and their shiny new factory spec Honda, which should elevate the Brit’s game and set up some interesting fights with countryman Crutchlow on the same bike. Hayden, Laverty, Miller and Karel Abraham will be the beneficiaries of an upgrade in the so-called customer Hondas, as the Japanese factory switches out the severely underpowered RCV1000R in favor of what they’re calling the 213V-RS, powered by this year’s fire-breathing RC213V engine in conjunction with a standard ECU and complete with Open class fuel, engine, testing and tire concessions.

Like I said 1400 words ago, there’s still plenty going on in MotoGP. The Marquez Years are upon us, and we must look past young Marc, seeking our pleasure in the profane, the ridiculous and the sublime, all of which are in lavish supply as the 2014 season wends its way to the finish line at Valencia in November.

We’ll have Phillip Island results right here on Sunday evening.

Heading back to Spain, Marquez needs to focus

September 22, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Aragon Previiew

Bruce Allen  © Motorcycle.com

For Repsol Honda super soph Marc Marquez, who flirted with perfection for much of the season, there remain but three goals for the 2014 MotoGP season. First and foremost—win the title, which is pretty much a done deal. Second—stay out of the hospital, which is to say take no unnecessary risks in a sport which is, by its very nature, risky. Third and last—break Mick Doohan’s all-time record of 12 wins in a single season.

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Wayne Rainey and Vali

You and I would probably reverse the first two, which is one reason we’re not out there competing for world championships in anything. I was once told that to be successful in advertising, one had to lack the ability to recognize life-threatening situations. This goes without saying in motorcycle racing, where the trajectory of one’s life can change in an instant. Thus all the wheelchairs one sees at AMA events. And while we are consistently hard on the so-called back markers in the premier class, it must be admitted that all are hugely talented and courageous beyond belief. The difference between The Aliens and the Michael Lavertys is on the order of three to four seconds per lap. All of which validates the second of my tired clichés this week—the difference between good and great, in anything, is about 2%.

Marquez swims across the lineMarquez, with a 70-some point lead over teammate Dani Pedrosa and Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, can clinch the title at Phillip Island with a couple of top two finishes between now and then. Not a tall order at all for the uniquely gifted young Spaniard. With 11 wins under his belt already, it is hard to imagine he won’t at least tie Doohan. And, should he tie Doohan with, say, two or three rounds left on the schedule, I expect he will go for the record. Despite the fact that he experienced the most serious crash of his career at Sepang in 2011, it would be tempting to go for history in the Honda-friendly Malaysian heat.

Recent History at Aragon

Despite the fact that Motorland Aragon was only added to the MotoGP calendar in 2010 as an emergency replacement for the still-born Hungarian circuit, there have been some great performances there in the years since. The track itself is a gorgeous place. The stacked stone wall looks like something straight out of the Inquisition, while the giant electronic billboard at the other end provides a stunning contrast, from medieval to ultra-modern. Too bad it’s stuck out in the middle of nowhere, 150 miles west of Barcelona. Not as remote as the Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina, but not exactly convenient. To anywhere.

Back in 2011, Honda stalwart Casey Stoner, on his way to his second premier class title, arrived at Aragon leading defending champion and Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo by 35 points. At the start, Stoner and teammate Pedrosa went off to play by themselves, leaving Lorenzo to fiddle around with the likes of Gresini Honda pilot Marco Simoncelli and Yamaha teammate Ben Spies, both of whom he ended up beating soundly. Stoner took the top step on the podium and essentially clinched to 2011 title that day, leaving Lorenzo time to start getting accustomed to being referred to as “former champion.”

In 2012, it was Dani’s Revenge, as Pedrosa, who trailed the incandescent Lorenzo by 38 points on the heels of his last-row-start-first-lap-crash Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380at Misano two weeks earlier, won comfortably. Lorenzo claimed second that day, playing it safe, while Monster Tech 3 climber Andrea Dovizioso pushed his satellite Yamaha to the limit all day on his way to a satisfying third place finish. Pedrosa epitomized the “win or bin” mentality so often spoken of in racing, generally by Brits, by winning six of his last eight races that year and crashing out of the other two. Despite piling up his highest career point total in 2012, Pedrosa would end the year 18 points behind Lorenzo, a bridesmaid once again.

Last year, rookie Marc Marquez, not having been informed that Aragon was a Yamaha-friendly layout, calmly went out, took Jorge Lorenzo’s best shot, and beat him by 1.3 seconds. Valentino Rossi, in his first year back on the factory Yamaha after the two year exile with Ducati, took a rather hollow third, some 12 seconds behind Lorenzo. Marquez’ 39 point lead over Lorenzo at the end of the day would prove insurmountable. Notwithstanding the chippy DQ he absorbed at Phillip Island three weeks later, he clinched his first premier class title with a strong second place finish at Valencia on the last day of the season.

The Bottom Line

Marquez has now proven himself mortal, with his off-the-podium finish at Brno and the super slo-mo crash last time out at Misano. He doesn’t need to be sensational to achieve his #1 remaining 2014 goal, just good. He mustn’t lose concentration as the season winds down, in order to achieve his #2 goal. And, he will have several opportunities to secure his #3 goal, and further cement his place in MotoGP history, during the remaining rounds. This week’s race would actually be a good place to take a crack at #12, as Aragon is not what they call a terribly “technical” layout. With two wins here in the last three tries, he can go for the pole, check the competition in the first few laps, and decide mid-race whether conditions warrant going for the win. Moreover, he need not worry too much about what Lorenzo does, as the “threat”, such as it is, resides in Pedrosa and Rossi.

Quick Hitters

308_p01_pirro_portrait

Michele Pirro

This is the time of year when Gresini Honda slacker Alvaro Bautista typically rises from the dead. Since joining the Italian team in 2012, he has accumulated the bulk of his points in the second half of the season, narrowly averting a rough dismissal each year. This year, the team is leaving him; say hello to the factory Aprilia team, Alvaro. Perhaps Michele Pirro will become your teammate. He can certainly ride the Ducati, which means he can ride anything…KTM has announced it will join the grid in 2017 and begin testing at the end of next season. Having six manufacturers will certainly be more interesting than having three, although it probably won’t have much to do with goings-on at the top of the food chain…No word yet on whether Nicky Hayden will actually return to the sluggish Aspar customer Honda this round, this year, or ever again…Eugene Laverty, in a Field of Dreams moment, announced he will join the premier class next season, but that he doesn’t actually know, just now, with whom. Staging the announcement before signing the contract is the moto equivalent of “build it and they will come.”… Can two Lavertys be any more exciting than the one that has already accumulated three points this year? Just sayin’…Weather.com says it will be sunny and in the 70’s in Alcaniz this weekend, but Weather.com doesn’t know squat.

The race goes off again this week at 8 am Eastern time. We’ll have results later on Sunday, as the editorial staff at Motorcycle.com will have sobered up and returned to their customary post-equinox stations by then.

Honda, Marquez look to repeat in Deutschland

July 8, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Sachsenring Preview, by Bruce Allen

Going back to 2007, the Repsol Honda team has won five of the last seven MotoGP events at The Sachsenring, Ground Zero of German motorsports. Dani Pedrosa enjoyed a hat trick here between 2010 and 2012, while teammate Marc Marquez, for whom we have officially run out of superlatives, won last year, the first of four consecutive wins that would culminate in his claiming the 2013 premier class title. There exists no credible reason to believe the top two steps of the podium will not be draped in Repsol orange, red and black on Sunday afternoon.

Marquez swims across the lineThe longer The Streak continues, the harder it gets to suggest that someone other than Marquez will take the checkered flag on Sundays. A number of other publications, notably MotoGP.com, rattle on week after week about how Pedrosa, or the strongmen of the Movistar Yamaha team, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, look capable of heading off the 21 year-old Catalan. Our commitment to keeping it real, however, requires us to acknowledge that, barring an unforeseeable mechanical failure or carelessness on the part of another rider early in the race, Marquez is going to win in Germany. The guy does not beat himself.

This, then, is another instance in which we would prefer, all things being equal, to be wrong. Such was the case in 2010 when we predicted that Valentino Rossi was in for a miserable two years headlining the factory Ducati team. Or last year at this time, when we predicted that Cal Crutchlow, on his way to Ducati Corse, would trail both Tech 3 Yamaha riders, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, in the final 2014 standings. All of us have heard the adage in the paddock that MotoGP is 80% rider and 20% bike, an observation borne out by Casey Stoner in 2007. Marc Marquez is the only other rider we’ve seen since then capable of winning on the Ducati; as intelligent (and well-paid) as he seems, there is virtually no chance we’ll ever see him on the beastly Desmosedici.

Let’s just pile on with one more observation about Marquez and The Sachsenring. He’s been racing grand prix bikes there since he was 15 years old. The last time he lost in Germany, he was 16. It’s one of his favorite tracks. The summer break just can’t come soon enough.

Recent History at The Sachsenring

Up until last year, one had to regard Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa as The Man at this track. He won there in 2010, 2011 and again in Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-3802012. During the second of his three consecutive wins, in 2011, he led teammate and eventual championship winner Casey Stoner and Yamaha gunner Jorge Lorenzo on a merry chase through the German countryside. Stoner appeared to have second place in the bag until Lorenzo slipped past him on Lap 30, punking him by a tenth. Stoner, having lost the battle, would win the war, taking the next three rounds, while Lorenzo crashed hard in practice at Philip Island, losing the tip of a finger in the accident, and ending his hopes for that year.

In 2012, Pedrosa again spent the afternoon with Stoner glued to his rear wheel. But, late on the last lap, the racing gods intervened, sending the Australian into a dramatic, long, agonizing lowside that looked like a slow-motion replay of itself. Suddenly, Pedrosa was home free, while a stunned Lorenzo moved up to second place, and an even more surprised Andrea Dovizioso waltzed onto a podium finish in third. It marked the first time in 22 starts that Stoner had failed to finish. Lorenzo, thus blessed, went on to claim the 2012 title, with no clue it might possibly be his last.

Last year, while both Lorenzo and Pedrosa sat out nursing broken wings, Marquez took the win by 1.6 seconds over a determined Cal Crutchlow, with Rossi another eight seconds back. Pedrosa had been leading the championship through Round 7, and 2013 appeared to finally be his year until he went flying over his handlebars on Saturday morning, landing hard, out of title contention once again. Marquez took the lead in the 2013 title race that day and never let go, despite a picky and unnecessary disqualification at Phillip Island that made the final standings appear closer than they actually were.

A Reversal of Fortune at Movistar Yamaha

Rossi & LorenzoHad you been living in a cave in Borneo for the past two weeks, and I told you that the factory Yamaha team had signed one of its riders for the next two seasons, would you have guessed that the rider in question was Valentino Rossi? That Yamaha would sign the aging legend, who will be 37 when this latest contract runs out, before doing a deal with Jorge Lorenzo? Furthermore, had I told you that a premier class rider admitted to the press after Assen that he was frightened by the wet conditions and was thus unable to compete for a podium, would you have guessed I was talking about Karel Abraham, or double world champion Jorge Lorenzo?

We have been suggesting here for some time that Marc Marquez has gotten inside Lorenzo’s head, where he is causing all kinds of problems for the Mallorcan, this last bit of candor being but the most recent. Now, it appears that Rossi, once again, is the alpha male in the factory Yamaha garage; shades of 2008 and 2009, years in which the immensely talented Lorenzo could not stand being #2 to his teammate, a situation that became so desperate the teams had to build a wall down the center of the garage to keep the two separated. Lorenzo found it difficult to be Rossi’s wingman before winning two titles; I doubt he will find it any easier now.

Six months ago I suspected Rossi was in his last contract with Yamaha, and that Lorenzo would be with them until 2020. Now, 180 degrees later, it appears Rossi will finish his career on The Big Blue Machine, while Lorenzo could conceivably go looking for greener—or redder, or turquoiser (?)—pastures. The domino effect engendered by Marc Marquez is, indeed, having some unforeseen consequences.

Your Weekend Forecast

Surprisingly, Weather.com is calling for clear skies and warm temperatures in Saxony this weekend. We had our share of cool and wet last time out in Assen, and can look forward to more of the same when we return to Silverstone at the end of August. Weather does not appear likely to be a factor for Round 9.

Which, in a way, is a shame. MotoGP needs something to shake up the status quo in what is becoming a dreadfully predictable season. Sure, a lot of us used to enjoy watching Michael Jordan lead the Bulls to title after title, but the Pippens and Rodmans helped make them possible. In an individual sport like MotoGP, utter domination by one rider is fun to watch if you happen to be a fan of that rider. Otherwise, you’re probably recording the races, checking for spoilers online, and cutting the grass, rather than watching Marc Marquez flash his boyish grin while he’s hoisted in the air by his team week after week after week, as if he had lost his virginity the night before.Marquez hoisted

The race goes off at 8 am Eastern time. We’ll have results and analysis right here on Sunday afternoon.