Posts Tagged ‘Catalunya’

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 2016 Assen Preview

June 22, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo in a Bad Place after Catalunya Crash 

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

Recent History at Assen

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

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

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

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

The Factory Seats for 2017 are Set

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

Repsol Honda—Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa

Movistar Yamaha—Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales

Factory Ducati—Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso

Factory KTM—Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith

Suzuki ECSTAR—Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins

Aprilia Gresini—Sam Lowes, Aleix Espargaro

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

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

Happenings in the Junior Classes

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

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

Your Weekend Forecast

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

MotoGP 2016 Catalunya Results

June 5, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Events Overshadowed by Moto2 Tragedy

Misano 2010                 Shoya Tomizawa

Sepang 2011                Marco Simoncelli

Catalunya 2016            Luis Salom

Montmelo has now had its name added to the list of circuits which have claimed the life of a rider during the current decade in MotoGP.  The finger-pointing and recriminations commenced immediately in an effort to pin blame for the Friday death of Luis Salom on something or someone.  My own sense is that the state of the Spanish economy over the past decade has led to “austerity measures” on the part of track owners unable, or unwilling, to invest in improvements—in this case, a gravel trap—that could save lives.

Which is the story of EU capitalism in a nutshell—a system in which myopic short term policies lead to lasting iniquity.  On a macro scale, the deconstruction of the Greek economy taking place before our very eyes, enforced by the EU with Germany, of all countries, cracking the whip, will inevitably lead to lasting hardship for the vast majority of her citizens.  On a micro scale, deferred investments in safety measures at a Spanish racing venue directly result in another bright young life being snuffed out.

Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya

Marquez loses battle, winning the war

The modified layout of the Circuit Catalunya brought about by Friday’s tragedy arguably converted Montmelo from being highly Yamaha friendly to Honda friendly, with both Repsol Hondas qualifying on the front row, Dani Pedrosa for the first time this season.  Marquez owned Q2, laying down a 1:43.9 on his first series and a 1:43.5 on his second, half a second clear of Lorenzo in the two slot.  Rossi saved himself for Sunday by leaping from ninth place to fifth on his last lap.  The surprise of the afternoon was Hectic Hector Barbera placing his Avintia Ducati at the top of the second row, missing out on a front row start by 15/1000ths of a second. With the notable exception of Rossi, Spaniards hogged the front two rows.

Rossi was the fastest rider in the morning warm-up, delivering a preview of the day’s events.  The race itself started normally enough, with Lorenzo winning the holeshot, the lead group forming up behind him consisting of Marquez, Iannone on the Ducati, Dani Pedrosa and Suzuki hotshot Maverick Vinales, with Rossi getting lost in the sauce on his way to eighth position.  By Lap 2, Rossi had sliced his way back to fourth, the four Aliens at the front trailed by a slavering Vinales who immediately began putting ragged moves on everyone he found in his way.

Rossi went through on Pedrosa on Lap 3 as I was noting “Lorenzo getting away?”  In what appeared to be a budding replay of last year, Marquez was overriding the RC213V on Laps 4 and 5, trying to keep the Mallorcan from disappearing, while Rossi, now flying, morphed the front two into a front three.  On Lap 6, Rossi passed Marquez easily and immediately set his sights on Lorenzo, who by that point was definitely NOT getting away.

On Lap 7, as first Rossi, then Marquez, went through on Lorenzo, it became apparent that Lorenzo was unable to maintain his speed in the turns, his edge grip apparently shot to hell.  Pedrosa went through him on Lap 9.  Vinales, having eaten his Wheaties that morning, started attacking Lorenzo relentlessly on Lap 10, almost as if he intended to usurp Lorenzo’s ride next season, as is the case.  Vinales stole Lorenzo’s lunch money today on Lap 12 after half a dozen failed attempts.  And while Rossi held the lead at this point, there was nothing comfortable about it, as Marquez refused to wilt despite losing ground coming out of all the slow turns.

Iannone Becomes a Verb

Nothing much changed at the front, then, until Lap 17, at which point Lorenzo was struggling to hold on to 5th place with Andrea Iannone threatening.  Somewhere in the middle of the circuit, possibly Turn 7, a routine left hander, Lorenzo was in the apex of the turn when Iannone, heading straight for him, running hot as an acetylene torch, slammed on his brakes, his rear tire leaving the ground, but not in time to avoid T-boning the triple world champion.

With his day now completely ruined and his lead in the 2016 championship but a memory, Lorenzo gained something new in common with next year’s Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso:  He had been Iannone’d by a rider likely to be giving Suzuki major second thoughts heading into a new two-year contract with a painfully low racing IQ.  While Iannone’s takedown of teammate Dovizioso at Le Mans was the result of poor judgment, today’s wreck appeared to involve no judgment at all.  Race Direction, which really knows how to hurt a guy, is likely to punish the jugheaded Italian with a point or two on his license, the equivalent of being ticketed for littering after drunkenly causing a four car pileup on an expressway.  Two points on your racing license is a hangnail; getting knocked out of a race while leading the championship is something closer to a disaster.

Another Montmelo Classic at the End

Marquez was in hot pursuit of Rossi, riding on the limit, when his pit board flashed the “Lorenzo KO” sign at him on Lap 19.  His immediate reaction was to not react.  He stayed on Rossi’s rear tire, backing into turns, losing ground on the exits, testing Rossi’s resolve once and again until Lap 23, when he went through and made it stick, leaving pretty much everyone watching the race gasping for air.  But Rossi, somehow still at the top of his game in 2016, took the lead back the next time around.  When Marquez suffered yet another “moment” in Turn 7 of Lap 24, he finally appeared to capisce his pit board’s message and let Rossi get away, knowing he had taken the lead in the 2016 campaign.  With a world class competitive spirit, Marquez has now gained the perspective he lacked early in his premier class career and understands that 20 points in the hand is better than 25 points a second and a half in front of you.

The Big Picture Refocused

The disruption in the 2016 standings brought about by Rossi’s blown engine in Mugello has now been largely corrected, thanks to Rossi’s rock-hard performance and Iannone’s rock-hard cranium.  Montmelo has bestowed her not inconsiderable charms on young Marquez, who retakes the championship lead for the first time since Jerez, with Lorenzo now 10 points behind him and Rossi another 12 behind Lorenzo.  Pedrosa, who podiumed today for, like, the thousandth time in his career, continues to maintain a faint grip on his ragged Alien club card, with 43 points standing between him and Marquez.  The series now takes a bit of a breather before heading to The Low Countries at the end of June for the first Dutch TT Assen in history not to be run on a Saturday.

I don’t want to talk about the controversy which blew up Saturday night about who attended the Safety Commission meeting on Friday evening and who didn’t, about who might have shot off their mouths criticizing the decisions pertaining to the modification of the track layout without bothering to attend.  Factory Yamaha riders are apparently above all that scut work.

I do, for the benefit of readers who believe I am constantly on Cal Crutchlow’s case, wish to say something positive about the Coventry Crasher.  Recall Mugello, after which I praised Cal for doubling—DOUBLING—his point total for the season with his scintillating 11th place performance in Italy.  Those of you who found that achievement brilliant will be astounded to learn that HE DID IT AGAIN TODAY!  With 10 points entering today’s race, and a credible sixth place finish, his point total for the year now sits at 20!  Never mind that three of the four riders who retired or crashed out of today’s race would have likely finished in front of him, resulting in a 9th place haul of seven points.

As the old saying goes, if you want to finish sixth, you must first finish.

Marquez needs his rally hat at Spain #2

June 12, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Catalunya Preview, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

boilig-frogI’ve been told you can put a frog in a pan of cold water and set it on a low fire, allowing the water to heat up gradually until the frog, just sitting there minding his own business, is cooked.  Playing the role of the frog at present and wearing #93 is defending world champion Marc Marquez, trailing series leader Valentino Rossi by 49 points as the 2015 season passes the one third pole.  Marquez fans around the world are going all Nelly, suddenly aware that “it’s getting’ HOT in here.” 

No one was sweating the curious 5th place finish at Losail, where weird things often happen.  The win at Austin showed relieved fans that all was, indeed, well with the Repsol Honda wunderkind.  The careless crash in Argentina seemed like a bump in the road, until the fourth place finish in France, which had people scratching their heads.  When the expected comeback at Mugello ended in disaster on Lap 18, those of us anticipating a decade of Marquez titles were jarred by the realization that a third consecutive title in 2015 would require a fairly complete collapse by the entire Movistar Yamaha team and has become, to use my friend Kevin’s term for bad movie plots, “unlikely.”

Not impossible.  A win in Barcelona coupled with a bad weekend from the Dueling Andreas of the factory Ducati team could put Marquez back in third place by Sunday afternoon.  Misfortune, as everyone knows, can strike quickly in this sport, especially at places like Assen and The Sachsenring, up next on the calendar.  But the fact that, for Marquez, the 2015 title now depends on Valentino Rossi AND Jorge Lorenzo crashing out of a race or two is vastly different from the scenario we’ve seen over the past two seasons.  Marquez morphed from dark horse to contender in 2013 when teammate Dani Pedrosa and rival Lorenzo broke collarbones in The Netherlands and Germany.  During his serene 2014, in which he barely broke a sweat winning the first ten races of the season, he could afford to ignore Lorenzo and Rossi and focus on dreaming up entertaining post-race celebrations.  The samurai ritual at Motegi last year was especially notable.Samurai celebration

Now, a year later, Marquez, sitting in fifth place, has lost control of his season.  The eventual outcome of the 2015 championship is in the veteran hands of Rossi and Lorenzo, both of whom look capable of winning.  The Yamaha and Ducati factories have given their riders much better machinery than they’ve enjoyed in years past, leveling the field, if not tilting it in their favor over the Hondas.

Personally, I can see Andrea Iannone blowing up in the second half of the season, going highside and recording a handful of DNSes; he is perhaps the most aggressive rider on the grid seated on a bike fast enough to enter a low earth orbit. Teammate Andrea Dovizioso rarely crashes and manages his tires, but has a single career win, at Donington Park back in 2009.  But, you say, Nicky Hayden won the 2006 title with only two wins; those days are long over.  Rossi, and especially Lorenzo, are riding as well as they ever have; the notion that both of them will suddenly fall off the chart is almost laughable.  Yet, for Marquez to win in 2015, that’s pretty much what needs to happen.

Catalunya—The Heart of Lorenzo’s Land

Lorenzo at workThe Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, closest to Jorge Lorenzo’s birthplace off the coast of Spain, is one of his favorite tracks.  Over the last nine years he has recorded eight starts, four wins, three seconds, and last year’s outlier, a fourth place finish in the midst of his half-season malaise.  He stomped the field in 2012, outraced Dani Pedrosa by 1.8 seconds in 2013, and suffered last year while Marquez, Rossi and Pedrosa rode the wheels off their bikes, Rossi sneaking into second place after Marquez and Pedrosa traded paint late in the day.  Last year’s race was one of the best of all time, probably one of the most satisfying wins of Marquez’ young career.

Lorenzo, coming off a hat trick at Jerez, Le Mans and Mugello, will be the favorite on Sunday.  Hopefully, by then the locals will have sobered up from the celebration of their football team’s world title this past Saturday.  For sports fans in this part of the planet, having Barca put it to Juventus, followed by Lorenzo putting it to everyone eight days later would be the equivalent of having home teams winning the Super Bowl and the Final Four in the same week.  And while Marquez and Pedrosa and the rest of the Spanish riders will all spend some time this week talking about the pleasures of racing at home, most of the locals, and all of the frontrunners, will be rooting for Jorge.

A Quick Golf Analogy

Many of us read this week the startling figure that Valentino Rossi, leading the championship after six rounds, has led a total of four (4) laps all year, while teammate Lorenzo has led 91.  Looking at these two numbers in a vacuum, one would assume that Lorenzo would be leading Rossi by a country mile.  Not so.

As it turns out, the only lap that is important to lead is the last one.  The comparison to golf is irresistible.  This, I suspect, is why you read this column on a regular basis—the never-ending and always enjoyable links to other sports.  Football, baseball, and now golf.  Golfers have an expression that captures the essence of the counterintuitive 91 to four ratio….wait for it…

Drive for show, putt for dough.  You’re welcome.

Has Arm Pump Surgery Become a Status Symbol?

Avintia Racing’s Hectic Hector Barbera is the latest victim of the nasty arm pump syndrome.  Having undergone surgery this past week—think splitting the casing on a kielbasa and then sewing it back together–his participation this weekend is described as “doubtful.”  Every year it seems like half a dozen riders go under the knife for this repair.  These are some of the toughest guys on the planet, so the pain must be immense.  Since it’s usually the right arm, the throttle arm, I don’t understand why the manufacturer’s don’t simply install an accelerator pedal on the right side of the bike, since the riders’ right legs are generally useless anyway, other than Rossi and a few imitators.  Jorge Lorenzo, whose riding style approaches poetry, rarely kicks out his leg entering turns.  The aesthetics of grand prix motorcycle racing would be improved if riders kept their legs to themselves, another solid reason for an accelerator pedal.  Just sayin’.

Your Weekend Forecast

It looks like there’ll be warm temps and plenty of rain in the Montmelo area between Friday and Monday.  Good news for the Ducati riders, as the Desmosedici has always been surprisingly stable in the wet.  Bad news for most everyone else, making setup difficult and raising the possibility of a hair-raising flag-to-flag affair.  Rain is one of the wildcards that can shake up a championship, as it raises the likelihood of crashing and forces riders to be more conservative than usual.

For Marc Marquez and his ornery RC213V, the prospect of a wet weekend must seem like the racing gods are just piling on.  But, to the extent that weather could toss a spanner into the works of the factory Yamaha team, he has no choice but to embrace the elements and make them work for him.  If the Bruise Brothers end up on the Catalan podium and he ends up in the kitty litter his 2015 season will be poached.

MotoGP Catalunya 2013 Results

June 16, 2013

by Bruce Allen.  An edited version of this column will appear on Motorcycle.com.

Jorge Lorenzo Repeats; Championship Tightens 

Factory Yamaha #1 Jorge Lorenzo won a number of battles today at the Gran Premio Aperol de Catalunya.  He beat challengers Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez to the finish line for his second consecutive win of 2013 and his second in a row at Montmelo.  He beat the Spanish summer heat that had a number of riders seeing stars.  He beat the racing surface itself, which was hot, greasy and abrasive.  So why does he seems destined to finish second in 2013? 

Race weekend 2013 in greater Barcelona was sunny, warm and confusing.  There was a different leader in each of the free practice sessions leading up to Saturday’s qualifying, in which series leader and Repsol Honda #1 Dani Pedrosa took the pole—his first ever here—in his 200th grand prix start.  The front of the starting grid today was weirdness itself:

  • a first row comprised of Pedrosa, Yamaha Tech 3 overachiever Cal Crutchlow and Lorenzo.
  • a hilarious second row featuring satellite Honda jug head Alvaro Bautista, factory Ducati #2 Nicky Hayden and Repsol Honda rookie phenom Marc Marquez; and
  • an all-Italian third row of factory Yamaha #2 Valentino Rossi, satellite Ducati comer Andrea Iannone and factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso.

One of the areas in which Lorenzo has improved his game over the past few years is starting races.  Back in 2010 and 2011, he would routinely qualify brilliantly, only to enter the first turn of races in, like 6th place.  This, in comparison to rival Pedrosa, who generally started races as if he had been launched by the catapult on an aircraft carrier.  Again today, in a repeat of his performance at Mugello two weeks ago, Lorenzo entered Turn 1 aggressively ahead of polesitter Pedrosa, a critical move that would make his win today possible.

25 Laps of High Anxiety

By the end of the first lap, the top five consisted of Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Marquez, Crutchlow and a frisky-looking Rossi, who appeared capable of a podium, if not a win.  Rossi has enjoyed six career wins here, but another poor qualifying practice, in a season full of them, consigned him to a fifth consecutive off-the-podium finish after his triumphant second-place result in Qatar.  More on Rossi later.

The next 24 laps reminded me of playing Bingo in a church basement, which offers players a unique combination of boredom and anxiety.  The only change in the top four positions occurred when Cal Crutchlow, heavily jinxed by me in last week’s preview, slid off the track and out of the race on Lap 6 for his first DNF of the season.  As in Mugello, Lorenzo desperately fended off the determined Pedrosa until his fuel load dropped, at which point he was again able to breathe, while not actually “breaking” Pedrosa until the last three laps.

What broke Pedrosa today was less Lorenzo than teammate Marquez, who spent his entire day in third position.  Late in the race, when it became clear Pedrosa was not likely to overtake Lorenzo, the rookie decided to make a run at him.  He spent most of the last three laps of the race attached to Pedrosa’s pipes, like a terrier on a pants leg, until the last lap, when he had a “MotoGP moment” during a last-gasp move on Pedrosa that forced him to stand the bike up and concede second place (by 6/100ths of a second).  Marquez is a baller, with five podiums and a DNF in six rookie starts.  He will file today’s race under “Lessons Learned in 2013”.

Don’t be surprised if this is the last time Pedrosa ever tops Marquez in Catalunya.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Alvaro Bautista, onboard the FUN&GO Gresini Honda for what has to be the last season, once again exhibited his low racing IQ for the world to see.  Dude qualified fourth and had an outside shot at a podium.  But, heading into Turn 10 on Lap 1, he seemed to take aim at Rossi, went in hot, lost the front, and slid out, barely missing the Italian’s rear wheel and a repeat of their conjoined debacle in Mugello last time out.  Another bonehead move on cold tires, reminiscent of Assen last year where he almost wrecked Lorenzo’s season.  I join Fausto Gresini in wondering what the hell is up with this guy.

Riders enjoying a productive day today included LCR Honda sophomore Stefan Bradl, who salvaged 11 points after starting in 10th place, and Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Bradley Smith, who held on for sixth place in his best outing of the year.  Andrea Dovizioso managed seventh today despite running on the rims as he crossed the finish line.  Aleix Espargaro was again the top CRT rider, ending the day in eighth place.

Normally we ignore much of what happens in the lower tranches of MotoGP, but today we make two exceptions.  We congratulate Colin Edwards, on the NGM Forward Racing CRT, who, in 9th place, managed his first top ten result since finishing 5th at Phillip Island in 2011.  And we salute 10th place finisher Michelle Pirro for his versatility.  So far this season, he has been a test rider for Ducati.  He has been a wildcard on the Ducati “Lab Bike.”  He has been a substitute rider for Ben Spies on the Ignite Pramac Ducati.  Today, though, he was onboard the Lab Bike wearing Pramac colors, the third, and hopefully last, permutation of a second-stringer for Ducati Corse.  Will we ever again see Ben Spies in MotoGP?

As The Sun Sets on Valentino Rossi

Barring rain at a layout like Aragon, it’s possible Valentino Rossi has won his last race in the premier class of MotoGP.  The guy who defined the sport for most of a decade has lost a step, as was clear today.  Sitting alone in 4th place after Crutchlow’s crash, The Doctor was unable to mount any kind of challenge to Marquez over the next 19 laps.  He appeared to be hoping for something bad to happen to one of the leaders, which would have elevated him to a cheap podium.  As we’ve said here before, most knowledgeable MotoGP observers say it’s 80% rider, 20% bike in this league.  If you buy that reasoning, you may also buy the idea that Rossi is done as a championship contender.  The following graph shows Rossi’s wins per season since joining the premier class in 2000.

Rossi Wins per Year Since 2000

The Big Picture 

After six rounds, Dani Pedrosa still leads Jorge Lorenzo by seven points.  Marquez trails Lorenzo by 23, with Crutchlow 22 points behind the rookie.  Barring crashes, which is like barring respiration, it is a two man race again this year.  Pedrosa’s lead is actually larger than it looks, for two reasons:

  • There are only a couple of Yamaha-friendly circuits remaining on the 2013 calendar.
  • Lorenzo is currently working engine #4, while both Pedrosa and Marquez are on their second powerplants.  With a statutory limit of five engines for the season, the likelihood that Lorenzo will have to start from pit lane in several races cannot be denied.

True, Lorenzo’s primary gift is his consistency, supplemented by his patience and tire management skills.  Scrawled on his helmet today was his mantra “Constant as a Hammer”.  He’s a polished professional at the top of his game, getting everything possible from his Yamaha M-1.  But the smart money is saying it’s not going to be enough in 2013.

Top Ten after Six Rounds