Posts Tagged ‘Dani Pedrosa’

Fact-Checking Myself

June 21, 2018

© Bruce Allen   June 21, 2018

I found myself quoting a statistic I hadn’t researched myself, one which, in a court of law, would be thrown out as hearsay. The statistic in question had to do with the number of wins scored by Everyman’s Hero, Valentino Rossi, since his last world championship in 2009. Presenting Exhibit A:

Rider Spreadsheet 1

Visual expression of what so many people say, how fun it would have been to watch Stoner and Marquez tangle. Anyway, if you remove the three years before Marquez got his ticket punched, the numbers look even more compelling;

Rider Performance 3

 

Bottom line: Rossi’s salad days, and those of Dani Pedrosa, are behind them. They should avoid the “Colin Edwards mistake” of hanging around two years too long. Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and even Iannone are getting a little long in the tooth. Time for some new blood at the top of the food chain.

Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir. Jack Miller on a Pramac GP19 next year. Jorge Martin moving on up in the next two years. Lorenzo Balddassarri. Miguel Oliveira for KTM. Everyone seems to love Xavi Vierge. Moto3 is packed with fast movers wanting to move up to Moto2. Plenty of knees and elbows in the turns. It appears that, career-wise, Tito Rabat has pulled off an amazing save, Marquez quality, and seems likely to find a ride for next year. He certainly seems to enjoy life on the Ducati, as does his boy Jack Miller.

MotoGP – New Track Records

June 19, 2018

© Bruce Allen June 19, 2018

Continuing our previous discussion about the setting of new track records in 2018.

Threw out Argentina – rain – and Texas – disintegrating racing surface – in examining our pre-season prediction that track records would fall “like dominoes” even with Michelins and the control ECU and big stars singing the blues.

Qatar was a NO. Jerez was a YES. Le Mans was a YES. Mugello was a YES. Cataunya, by virtue of the new surface, was, by definition, a YES. We are hitting .800 in a pitcher’s park. Raking the ball. Cover of Sports Illustrated pace.

Assen and Sachsenring will complete the front nine, our Amen Corner. Since returning to Europe, points for selected riders look like this:

 

Jerez  Le Mans  Mugello  Catalunya  Total

MARQUEZ                 25       25         0             20         65

ROSSI                      11       16        16            16         59

LORENZO                  0        10        25             25        60

DOVIZIOSO               0         0         20              0        20

VINALES                    9         9          8             10        36

IANNONE                  16        0         13              6        35

CRUTCHLOW            0        8          10            13        31

PETRUCCI                 13       20          9              8        50

MILLER                     10       13          0              0        23

ZARCO                      20                6              9           35

Playing with house money, as it were, it is apparent that Marquez has adopted a “win or bin” mentality for this central part of the season. Compare his to Rossi’s plan, to hang around the backboard, pick up a few put backs and some offensive rebounds. And keep an eye on Danilo Petrucci flying under the radar. Dovizioso and Miller appear, at this point, to be choking out.

It feels like a good time to remind folks about a second prediction we made concerning the 2018 season, that the eventual title winner would score less than 298 points. Thanks to Jorge Lorenzo, this prediction looks better than it did two rounds ago.

Here are some random screenshots from Catalunya 2018.

 

 

MotoGP Catalunya Results

June 17, 2018

© Bruce Allen        6/17/2018

Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo goes two for two.

The Existing World Order in MotoGP remained intact on Sunday in Barcelona. A resurrected Jorge Lorenzo won his second race in a row, from pole no less. He has shuffled the tranches more than he has the standings, as the riders look ahead to The Cathedral at Assen.

Practice and qualifying 

At the close of business on Friday the fast five had a distinctly Latin look about it, as it consisted of the sons of families with names like Lorenzo, Iannone, Viñales, Dovizioso and Rossi. Spanish and Italian grand prix racing royalty. Marc Marquez was dawdling down in 12th place, at risk of having to pass through Q1, barring some kind of breakthrough in FP3. But his race pace was solid; it’s easy to suspect he was more concerned about what he might have to do in Q2 than he was about getting there.

In addition to the usual suspects, Hafiz Syahrin and Tito Rabat kept showing up in or near the top ten during the practice sessions. In FP3, they bracketed the four-time MotoGP champion in 8th, 9th and 10th places. Dutifully on to Q1 trudged Marquez, along with Syahrin, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Alex Rins and the three KTMs, Kallio on another wildcard. During the somewhat meaningless FP4, Marquez recorded another historic save, in Turn 14, re-writing the laws of physics with his right elbow and knee sliders, dug into and destroyed by the tarmac. Marquez, reinvigorated, later led Taka Nakagami, a pleasant surprise on the second LCR Honda, into Q2.

Lorenzo screwedThe second qualifying session in Barcelona was, despite being virtually (statistically) random, a humdinger. Marquez laid down a quick early lap which looked like it might stand up, with Lorenzo in his garage having some kind of invective-soaked spasm. Andrea Dovizioso was whipping his Ducati GP18 into the front row, looking dangerous. Lorenzo returned to the track late and, on his last qualifying lap and stole the pole, making it 10 straight front row starts at Montmelo.

A late high-speed crash left my boy Cal Crutchlow starting from 10th. Vinales and Iannone were joined on Row 2 by gatecrasher Danilo Petrucci. Rossi and Johann Zarco found themselves consigned to Row 3, joined, again, by that Rabat guy on the Avintia Ducati. And poor Dani Pedrosa, his future unclear, whose spirit needed a boost and instead took a beating over the weekend, limped home to start 11th, having started from pole just last year.

What About The Flipping Race? 

Marquez took the hole shot at the start and led for a full lap before Lorenzo went through into a lead heMarquez Valencia 2017b wouldn’t have even considered giving up. Marquez flirted with the limit while trailing Lorenzo all day, getting dogged himself by Dovizioso. Until Lap 9, when the Italian crashed out of third place at Turn 5, his day and season in tatters. This bummer, in turn, promoted a lurking Valentino Rossi into podium contention.

Around and around they went. The order of riders didn’t change much for the next 15 laps. Cal Crutchlow snagged fourth, and the much-abused Dani Pedrosa pimped Maverick Vinales at the flag for fifth place. Experience 1, Skill 0. And the racing itself was inferior to the Moto2 and Moto3 races, which were, as usual, off the hook. 

What We Learned at Montmelo

We think we learned that Ducati, Lorenzo and Honda may all be suffering from buyer’s remorse tonight, given his current form. Honda, at a minimum, keeps him off a Ducati that now suits him for the next two years. Lorenzo could stay hot for two or three more rounds and put himself back in the 2018 conversation.

Marquez rode a smart race, keeping Lorenzo honest all day without taking any undue risks. He also managed to stay clear of Rossi.

Andrea Dovizioso’s title aspirations suffered a serious hit today as he crashed out of his third race in four outings. It’s gotta be in his head.

Rossi 2018Valentino Rossi is still relevant to the championship, but he will need something really, um, unlucky to happen to Marquez to be considered a serious contender for the title.

12 of the 26 starters failed to finish the race. Some good ones—Dovizioso, Rabat, Miller, Aleix and Syahrin–recorded DNFs. And so Franco Morbidelli gets two points for finishing three laps down.

What About the Big Picture

Marquez goes from leading Rossi by 23 to leading Rossi by 27. 11 points stand between riders #3 and #9. Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Iannone all enjoy 66 points after 7 rounds. Lorenzo’s trajectory is straight up, while Dovi’s is straight down. Iannone is less predictable. One rider who is painfully predictable is Dani Pedrosa, who has crashed out of alternating rounds all season. Don’t bet on him to finish at Assen.

In order to keep the KoolAid drinkers off my neck, I’m promoting Rossi to Tranche 1 with Marquez. It’s something of an honorific, as his best days are clearly behind him. 12 wins since 2009. But still finishing races, still standing on the podium, ready, willing and able to step up to the top whenever circumstances permit. He deserves respect, but you really shouldn’t bet on him to win anymore.

Marquez is holding things together at the top, making saves other riders can only dream about. If Lorenzo goes off and wins the next three, all Marquez needs to do is keep it close. His margin is such that, short of a royal blowout, Lorenzo’s hopes of a title in 2018 are modest.

Make Big Money Tranching at Home!

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Rossi

Tranche 2:   Vinales, Zarco, Petrucci, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone

Tranche 3:   Miller, Pedrosa, Rins, P Espargaro, Rabat, Bautista

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Smith, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

Bits and Pieces

To no one’s surprise, Jack Miller has signed a new one-year contract with Pramac Ducati, joining Pecco Bagnaia on what promises to be a fascinating 2019 team. It turns out that Petrucci’s contract with the factory Ducati team is also for one year only. When is this guy ever going to get some respect? He has been winning with inferior equipment his whole career. Now that he is fully up to speed as a factory Ducati rider he should be a consistent threat to podium.

Here’s an instant quiz: How many total world titles across all classes were standing on the podium on Sunday afternoon? Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi?

Today, as in Mugello, was Hammer Time for Lorenzo, looking more like the old Lorenzo, on rails, churning out lap after lap within 2/10ths of each other. He is mesmerizing; I literally nodded off, having slept poorly the night before.

Sitting here thinking I don’t expect Lorenzo to fare as well at Assen as he did today at Montmelo. But I didn’t expect him to win here either. OR at Mugello. So what do I know. I pretty much just work here. If, miraculously, Lorenzo does dominate in the Low Countries, he must be considered a legitimate threat to fight for the title.

A fortnight ago, Lorenzo was ‘washed up and left for dead,’ in the words of Mick Jagger. Tonight, he’s thinking about a hat trick, an effort that would cement his claim to have earned a part in the championship conversation.

In the meantime, as we submit this piece, we hope Aron Canet is OK after a big crash in the Moto2 race. He was stretchered off the track to the medical center. 

The Undercards, in eight seconds each:

In Moto3, Enea Bastianini punked Marco Bezzecchi at the wire, with Argentine Gabriel Rodrigo third. Jorge Martin led a parade of riders who crashed out of the race, leaving the door open. Rodrigo secured his first career podium in grand prix racing.

In Moto2, 19-year-old Frenchman Fabio Quartararo took his first win, stiff-arming KTM star Oliveira pretty much all day, with Alex Marquez holding onto third. At the top of the Moto2 food chain, Pecco Bagnaia leads Oliveira by a single point after seven rounds, trailed by Marquez and Lorenzo Baldassarri.  The races in both divisions are regularly breathtaking, worth the price of the video subscription.

On to Assen

The MotoGP Flying Circus returns to The Cathedral at Assen in two weeks, a revered place capable of delivering upsets. Anything can, and often does, happen at Assen. Expect huge heaping doses of optimism from all the top riders, as it’s in their contracts that they must bubble over with pre-race excitement.

MotoGP COTA Preview

April 16, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
All Eyes on Marquez, Deep in the Heart

Now that we’ve had 10 days to assess the Argentinian misadventure, a consensus seems to have formed around the BS being widely peddled by a petulant Valentino Rossi that Repsol Honda head case Marc Marquez should be put in front of an Italian firing squad and summarily executed. Marquez, it is true, may need to reconsider his approach to racing. This weekend could offer the opportunity he needs for a solitary retreat off by himself for a while, to ruminate on the sport and his place in it, and take the checkered flag when he’s done.

Marquez Valencia 2017bFor Marquez, a typical weekend getaway in Austin would feature him on top of every timesheet, qualifying on pole, getting away at the start, and indulging his introverted side, interacting with no one all day. Especially Valentino Rossi. It’s happened before, as he is undefeated in the United States since forever, and the Circuit of the Americas appears to have been designed with his mind in mind. After his tantrum in Argentina he must feel like he’s racing a bunch of porcupines, that any on-track contact at all, accidental, incidental or otherwise, will come back to stick him. This, I believe, is Rossi’s objective, to have the world watching #93 like a hawk, adding to the pressure, booing him at every turn, as it were.

Worse news for the Repsol Honda team coming out of Argentina was that Dani Pedrosa would need surgery for a fractured right wrist bone, courtesy of Aleix Espargaro, and is doubtful for Austin, thus putting to rest any notion (see my season preview) that this could Finally Be His Year. And people tell me I was insufficiently laudatory toward Cal Crutchlow as regards his race win and title lead. Those people don’t understand the voodoo doll-like effect I have on riders, such as Cal, whom I rarely praise. I pick them to win, it’s the kiss of death. I pick them to finish 13th, they podium. It’s a gift. I’ll shut up about Cal for now. Anything less than a podium in Texas, for him, though, would be telling.

There it is. I’ve figured out I want to watch Crutchlow and Marquez mix it up in Texas. Itcrutchlow would be fun to see them get away and have it out. Cal is saying he has the bike, the chops and the stones to win a title; a Texas cage match would provide a grand opportunity to prove it.

Recent History at COTA

While Marquez was busy winning again in 2015 (his non-championship season), Dovi finished second and Rossi third in a generally uneventful procession. A clean start led to a leading group of Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi and Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Marquez went through on Dovizioso on Lap 5 and maintained the margin, coasting to the win by 2.3 seconds over Dovizioso and 3.1 seconds over Rossi.

In the 2016 tilt, with Marquez getting away, Pedrosa arrived at a left-hander way hot, taking Dovizioso down from behind; the Italian never knew, as it were, what hit him. Besides #93, the men standing on the podium were Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, and a “cautious” Andrea Iannone on his Ducati GP16, paying penance for his takedown of teammate and podium threat Dovizioso the previous round. Viñales edged out Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaro for 4th place that day.

The run-up to the 2017 Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas set the stage for a much-anticipated cage match between Yamaha phenom Viñales, undefeated at that point of the season, and Marquez. Showing no sense of the moment, Viñales crashed out of fourth place on Lap 2, letting the air out of the balloon and ceding, at least for the moment, the lead in the world championship to teammate Valentino Rossi, with Marquez suddenly back in the game in third place.

Zarco: The Second Coming of Marco Simoncelli?

Those of you who remember Marco Simoncelli, who worked for Fausto Gresini back when he had a Honda team, will remember his “arrival” in MotoGP. He showed up in the 250cc class in 2006, tall, charismatic, outspoken, shock of curly hair, a world of talent. He won the 250 title in 2008, faded slightly to third in 2009, and arrived in MotoGP in 2010 with a satellite RC213V, placing eighth as a rookie with 11 top-ten finishes. Was very aggressive on track and wore out his tires every time out.

Simoncelli was a hazard to himself and those around him early in 2011, as he was faster than he realized, taking out several riders unapologetically. Notably defending double world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who took umbrage at the Italian. Recorded three DNFs in the first six races. Finally got things straightened out, stayed on the bike, and recorded podium finishes at Brno and Phillip Island before losing his life in an unlikely lowside crash at Sepang.

ZarcoZarco, no spring chicken, arrives on the MotoGP scene with two Moto2 trophies on a surprisingly competitive vintage Yamaha M1 circa 2016. He is fast from the start with three podiums and several other highly competitive outings in his Rookie of the Year year. He almost never crashes out, yet plays rough out there, and would have a target on his back were it not for #93. Simoncelli had a bright future in MotoGP; Zarco’s future is equally bright. He will need to learn to save his tires.

Speaking of Jorge Lorenzo…

That was a weak transition.

But the best piece of gossip emerging since Argentina has Jorge Lorenzo, currently residing in a dumpster fire at Ducati Corse, weighing a move to Suzuki, ostensibly to replace an improving Andrea Iannone, and riding alongside Alex Rins, a rising star in the MotoGP firmament. These are uncharted waters, a world champion onboard a Suzuki, and it would make for interesting racing. The Suzuki, unlike the Ducati, seems fairly easy to ride, making up time in the tighter areas of the track, losing time in the straights. I like the idea of Lorenzo getting away from the torture of Ducati and back on a more rider-friendly bike. It would be fun to have him back in the Alien ranks. Fun having him relevant again. I wonder if he could beat Rins.

Your Race Weekend Forecast

My primary forecast for the weekend: Marc Marquez will not stall at the start of the race.

Otherwise, the weather looks good, with the possible exception of Saturday, and race day is supposed to be sunny and 75°.

I can’t see any reason not to suspect Marquez will win in Texas. I believe Crutchlow and Zarco or Dovizioso will join him on the podium. I don’t expect much from the factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Vinales, which means they will probably do well. And no further incidents between Marquez and Rossi. Please. They generate too much conversation.

The race goes off at 3 pm Eastern time, with the underclasses starting at noon. We’ll have results and analysis here for you early Sunday evening at no extra charge.

 

Greatest of All Time

April 6, 2018

© Bruce Allen

Marquez Valencia 2017b

Discussions of who is the greatest whatever of all time are usually tiresome affairs, made up of people who possess one or two indelible facts or impressions they then use to bludgeon any other arguments to pieces. This fruitless argument becomes more fruitless each year, as records and riders extend back to bygone eras where virtually nothing was the same as it is now, as regards machinery. It’s not just moto racing, it’s any sport.

It’s the usual problem with “of all time” comparisons. The historical context is everything. We humans, with our small brains and limited attention spans, both of which are generally focused on sex, don’t have the bandwidth to try to fully understand the competitive conditions extant, say, in the 1960s and 1970s when Giacamo Agostini was winning titles, lapping the field.

We have a hard time getting fully engorged by Angel Nieto, who won all those titles, mostly in the 70’s, on 80cc and 125cc bikes. We look at Rossi with his nine, seven in the premier class, and shake our heads, certain it would have been higher had he not reigned during the nascence of The Alien Class of riders, any number of whom will have their own claim to Hall of Fame stature in the years to come. Stoner. Lorenzo. Marquez.

Inevitably, we run into old school types like Matt Oxley or Kevin Schwantz who criticize the electronics in today’s bikes, making them sound like video games, over-powered and over-engineered pocket rockets that can practically ride themselves. This, I believe, is where the “of all time” argument gets complicated. I believe the video game aspect of today’s bikes is an extra layer of difficulty the riders from the 20th century didn’t have to deal with.

Here’s what I think. I think Marc Marquez, arguably the best rider of the current decade, could adjust to the bikes going back to the 1970s with little trouble , especially given his dirt-track riding style. The idea of taking a Wayne Rainey or a Mick Doohan out there, putting them on a 2018 MotoGP bike and saying, “Take it away!” is laughable. They wouldn’t be able to get out of pit lane. I think Marquez, on the other hand, is strong enough to enjoy racing the 500cc two-strokes.

There. In order to discuss the greatest of all time in MotoGP, you have to examine the context. In order to level the playing field, one must account for the difference in the machinery, which can only be done by some crude indexing. For instance, whereas Giacomo Agostini rated 98% on the 350cc MotoGP bike, he would rate only, say, 40% on today’s Yamaha M1. Rossi or Marquez, on the other hand, are up in the 90’s on the MotoGP bike and could get well up into the 80’s in a day or two on  the 350.

Marquez has the fundamental, intuitive balance and reflexes of a great rider. He also has the full array of video game skills and a powerful frame. He is the complete package.

Given the genesis of MotoGP, the impossible speeds and lean angles and the increasingly complicated electronics, I would vote for Marquez, presuming his career maintains its current arc, as the GOAT. If he can win three or four more titles in the next five years, he will be The Man. He’s facing the same problem Rossi faced starting in 2010–a new generation of riders. Maverick Vinales. Johann Zarco. Alex Rins. A rejuvenated Andrea Dovizioso. A bunch of fast movers in Moto2 anxious for factory rides in MotoGP beginning next year. Names like Bagnaia, Baldassarri, Mir and Fenati.

To me, it feels like we’re watching something special during what will be referred to as The Marquez Years. I pray it ends someday in triumph, on his terms, fully intact and ready for the next phase in his remarkable story.

Lorenzo - Marquez

MotoGP 2018 Rio Hondo Preview

March 26, 2018

Aliens Travel Upriver for Round Two

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Right now would be a pretty good time to forget most everything you thought you learned three weeks ago in the Arabian Peninsula. This week the sadists at Dorna take us from the desert to the jungle. From them sizzling wide open man-made Qatari spaces to a grueling, tighter Argentinian layout hacked out of triple canopy, deep in the humid heart of nowhere. Marquez and the factory Yamahas like this place.

Well, okay, it does sit on a massive lake. A number of readers reportedly have their panties in a twist over reports that a possible win for Johann Zarco, Tech 3 Yamaha’s mid-career homme d’acier, was snuffed at Losail by a defective front tire, a report Michelin has apparently confirmed. This is not a statistically significant indictment of Michelin’s racing tire program. It is evidence only that, in fact, shit happens in racing. Jorge Lorenzo lost his brakes, at speed, in the same race and wound up with leathers looking like something David Crosby would wear. Several years ago Marc Marquez found himself de-camping his Honda at around 200 mph at Mugello and walked away from it.Zarco

Marco Simoncelli.

Yuki Takahashi.

Luis Salom.

It’s all part of the same deal, the same bargain. No tears in MotoGP. Pedrosa says he had tire problems. So did Jack Miller. Pol Espargaro did not crash out but retired with electronics issues. But truly unfortunate for Zarco nonetheless, not to mention chilling for the rest of the field. Contrary to the opinions expressed by many of you, I feel Honda has the inside track in the 2019 rider lottery due to Zarco’s age. Zarco doesn’t want to win in three years when the KTM bike may be untouchable. He wants to win next year; he’s old to be a legitimate first-time threat for a title. He won’t want his first legitimate shot to occur when he’s in his early 30’s (as has Dovi’s). He wants it now, as the expression goes, while we’re young here.

Recent History at Rio Honda Hondo

2015 was the year Rossi attacked defending champion Marquez late in the race, with Marquez going down and out in what would become his worst premier class season to date. He had started well from pole and appeared to be disappearing early but couldn’t get away. Rossi had started eighth but found something in the middle of the race while Marquez’s rear tire—blame the 2015 chassis– was busily decomposing beneath him. Rossi was joined on the podium by Dovizioso and Crutchlow. Lorenzo, never a factor that day, would come back later in the year for his third title.

Marquez Valencia 2017b

2016 was the Michelin fiasco, the mandatory mid-race switcheroo, Tito Rabat getting in front of Rossi as they re-entered the race, allowing his BFF Marquez to get away. (Rossi said his #2 bike simply wasn’t as fast as his #1.) After the reset, Marquez was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The true conspiracy theorists support the notion that Rabat had Honda factory team orders to impede Rossi if at all possible, allowing his training partner #93 an undeserved advantage.

Blah blah blah.

Last year, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a Bungle in the Jungle here in the Middle of Nowhere. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he uncharacteristically lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Poof. Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat, making it a twofer for 2017. vinales-on-yamahaedited

This is a Preview, Right?

So, most years here we’ve watched Marc Marquez tango with a factory Yamaha at the front of your basic high-octane conga line. This year the star dancers could easily include a Ducati or two; the layout may also appear to some as Suzuki-friendly. And is there anyone out there willing to suggest that Johann Zarco won’t be running up front with the big dogs? On a two-year old sled that just slams?

The current weather outlook is one the teams loathe—cool and wet on Friday and Saturday, clearing and warming up on Sunday afternoon. A dirty track to begin with, then two days of practice in rain, followed by a warm-ish race. It is helpful to keep in mind the fact that Marquez crashed out last year and still managed to win the title. So, a bad outcome here is not a deal breaker by itself. If, however, it is combined with an out-of-the-points performance in Qatar, it can make for the start of a long season. Jorge.

Idle Speculation

Have a little time on your hands? Want to think about which Moto2 riders will graduate up to the premier class in 2019? There is a report out there Yamaha is kicking tires in the Marc VDS garage, a deal that would appear to make perfect sense. Yamaha gets Morbidelli and A Spanish Rider to be Named Later. Dorna gets to see the Honda-centric mess put out of its misery. Yamaha should learn from this budding debacle (losing Zarco to HRC) and give factory machines to all its riders, both teams. See who has the onions to stand on the podium.

Such a team’s fortunes would be vulnerable to a downturn in 2021 when Rossi’s Sky 46VR team seizes possession of the second Yamaha garage. But by then either Suzuki or Aprilia would appear ready to sign a second team. If I’m Mr. van der Straten, I’d be looking to sell. Join up. Defect. Whatever. Suzuki appears to be on the right track, supposedly in search of its own satellite team. Aprilia and KTM were the only manufacturers to leave Qatar without points. Just sayin’, Sayyed.

The most fascinating piece of gossip to emerge from the three-week layoff is word that Johann Zarco is having discussions with Ducati. Simultaneously, there was an interview with one of the Formaggi Grandi for Ducati stating their intent to re-sign both Dovi and Lorenzo for the next two years. This is probably a red herring intended to stiffen the resolve of HRC to sign the clever Frenchman.

Based on results from Qatar only, it appears both Pecco Bagnaia and Lorenzo Baldassarri (for whom the tag BadAss appears unavoidable) are legitimate candidates for promotion next year. Alex Marquez, who was jocked years ago as being faster than his big brother and who definitely is not, doesn’t have me convinced yet. Miguel Oliveira will move up when KTM says he’s ready, which could be next year, or not. One guy who would make a fascinating dark horse is Joan Mir, a rookie in Moto2 who dominated while titling in Moto3 and has Alien written all over him. If Honda loses Zarco to KTM, or Ducati, I would love to see them call up Mir, whose contract, if I’m not mistaken, is directly with the factory. In two or three years he and Marquez could rule the world.

One Last Bit from Qatar

A separate observation regarding the overall health of this ridiculous sport, comparing last week’s results at Losail with the results from the same race in 2011. This year 21 riders finished. The winning time was under 42:35. The top seven were separated by 4.6 seconds; the top 10 by less than 15. In 2011, 13 riders finished the race. Casey Stoner won at 42:38; Jorge Lorenzo was the only rider within 5 seconds. The #10 finisher, Hiro Aoyama, was 29 seconds behind Stoner.

Despite the difficulties many manufacturers are having selling bikes, MotoGP has never been more robust, more competitive, more interesting. A new class of e-bikes promises short but exhilarating races beginning next year, though there will be an obvious need to pipe in some noise.

The economics of MotoGP are, for me anyway, impenetrable. One can only conclude, as measured by the amount of money the six manufacturers are pouring into the MotoGP programs, that results in grand prix racing affect the buying decision of a man in, say, Jakarta who is in the market for a new 125cc urban runabout. The comparison to American pickup truck owners—ya gotcher Chevy guys and ya gotcher Ford guys—is much the same. A big part of racing, I guess, is getting riders to think of themselves as Honda guys or Suzuki guys, a solid reason to keep a brand icon like Valentino Rossi in the saddle as long as possible. Even if he’s not winning he’s still creating a lot of Yamaha guys.

The MotoGP race goes off at 2 pm Eastern time. We’ll have results here before suppertime. People in the know expect Marc Marquez to lead the series heading to Austin. #winning

 

MotoGP 2018 Losail Preview

March 13, 2018

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Let the 2018 Games Begin! 

Nothing like the start of a new racing season to turn the iron in a man’s blood into the lead in his pencil. All the speculation, all the testing, all the contingencies will become moot once the lights go out in far-away Qatar. The Alien class—Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales—is sharpening their fairings in anticipation. Another handful of riders dream of getting their tickets punched in 2018.  

Riders like Johann Zarco (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha), Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Ducati) and Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) need to get off to a quick start if they want to challenge the usual suspects in 2018. Although the championship cannot be won this weekend, it can certainly be lost for those ending up in the kitty litter. The good news for 23 of the 24 riders lining up at the start—since 2008, only three riders who have won the opener have gone on to capture the title. Winning at Losail is not as important as finishing in the points.

Marc Marquez, the #1 rider on the planet, is the odds-on favorite to threepeat in 2018. During winter testing, he focused on eerily consistent simulations, turning hundreds of laps in metronomic fashion. He may have only topped the timesheets a time or two in the process, but he claims to love this year’s RC213V, exuding quiet confidence and entering the season in great physical shape. The caption for this photo should read, “In an effort to pander to the female readers of this stuff.”Marquez Cropped

Behind him stands a mixed bag of Aliens, former Aliens, and wannabe Aliens, with names like Viñales, Dovizioso, Zarco, Rossi, Pedrosa and Lorenzo. Of these, the career tracks of the first three are ascendant while those of the last three are heading south. Further back, several young guns—notably Miller and Rins—think they have the juice to displace some of the leaders. Somewhat lost in the sauce are the prospects for guys like Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone who, if they were running backs in the NFL, would be referred to as “tweeners.” All three are capable of winning races. All three generally find ways not to.

Although there will be plenty of riveting action farther down the food chain, space limitations—read “your short attention span”—prevent us from talking about them too much. If you’re really interested in the prospects of Tom Luthi or Xavier Simeon, best visit their websites.

With the able assistance of Price Waterhouse, Coopers, Lybrand, Sacco and Vanzetti, we have gathered mountains of data and scuttlebutt to provide regular readers with a loose ranking of these fast movers. We use the term “tranche” instead of “group” to sound better-informed and more continental. The methodology behind this assessment is closely guarded, so much so that even I don’t understand it. We will publish the first of our 2018 rankings after the race.

Recent History at Losail 

In his 313th grand prix start, Rossi delivered a vintage performance in the 2015 season opener, going knives-in-a-phone booth with factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso all night before punking his compatriot by 17/100ths to take the lead in the title chase for the first time since 2010.  Marquez got pushed way wide into the gravel on Lap 1, ultimately finishing fifth. Andrea Iannone, then laboring for Ducati, made it an all-Italian podium and overinflated our expectations for him in beating Jorge Lorenzo to the line by half a second. 2015 would be remembered as the year Marc Marquez did not win a championship.

The 2016 iteration of the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar marked the beginning of the newest era in MotoGP, that of Michelin tires and a standard ECU across the grid.  In the run-up to the race, hopes that some new faces would emerge from the pack and find their way to the podium were building.  Under the lights of Losail, however, defending champion Lorenzo held serve for Yamaha against a strong challenge from Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez; the Usual Suspects once again asserted their dominance.  At the time, a wager that nine different riders would ultimately win races that year would have seemed deranged. 

Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block, Maverick Viñales, did to the field of the 2017 Grand Prix of Qatar what he had done ever since he first placed his bum on the saddle of the YZR-M1 the previous November.  He ended the day at the top of the podium, having outdueled Dovizioso over the last eight laps of the race.  Rossi finished third that night, with Marquez fourth, keeping his powder dry, coloring between the lines. Aleix Espargaro flogged his Aprilia RS-GP to an encouraging sixth place which would, unfortunately, stand as the high water mark of his season. 

How Do YOU Spell Xenophobia? 

As the curtain prepares to go up on the 2018 MotoGP season, let’s reacquaint ourselves with the rampant nationalism that is baked into the sport. Spain and Italy have pretty much had things their way since Casey Stoner got PW’ed into retirement by the lovely Adrianna after the 2012 season. Italy fits into that sentence only relatively, having failed to win a title during the period but having managed, on the other hand, not to lose a war. The Italian presence in MotoGP, however, is undeniable, with Valentino Rossi still competitive in his dotage and the Ducati brand having regained much of its previously lost luster. Andrea Dovizioso is now The Great Italian Hope and represents a credible threat to unseat Marc Marquez at the top of the food chain.

With premier class riders now hailing from unfamiliar places like Belgium and Malaysia, the Spanish stranglehold is under assault. One surmises that TV viewership across the globe is expanding, except in the United States, where it’s easier to find Ozzie & Harriet reruns than live race coverage. Thailand, we understand, is losing its collective mind over hosting MotoGP beginning this year. One assumes Finland will experience the same in 2019. With F1 giving up ground of late, soccer and MotoGP have become the top two spectator sports in most of the free world. This, in turn, relieves me of the sensation that I am writing mostly for readers from other galaxies. Your comments via DISQUS reinforce this relief.

Your Weekend Forecast

Expect dark, dusty, hot, repressive and oligarchical conditions in this feudal anachronism this weekend. I’ve read that within 50 years daytime highs in the country’s interior could reach 180° F, meaning they won’t be racing at Losail forever. You and I consistently place too much weight on the outcome of Round 1, which is a true outlier, the results of which should be taken with a grain of salt.

Screenshot (59)

That being said, I can confidently predict Andrea Dovizioso will win the 2018 opener. With three very competitive second place finishes in the past three years, an improved bike, and confidence instilled from last year’s championship chase, he is my solid favorite. Marc Marquez, pretty much everyone’s choice to title again this year, has won at Losail only once (2014) since joining the premier class. He should end the evening on the podium. In my mind’s eye I see Jorge Lorenzo crashing out of the lead, the factory Yamaha pair of Vinales and Rossi in the mix, and at least one party crasher making it into the top five. Jack Miller and/or Alex Rins could have a big night. Even Dani Pedrosa, in what may be his swan song for Honda in the Persian Gulf, could end up on the podium.

We will have results and analysis for you sometime on Sunday (?), since I’m unable to translate the start time and GMT zone into anything comprehensible. I will miss Nick Harris and Dylan Gray. The mad scrambles of Moto2 and Moto3 will be worth watching, and I’ll try to give them some space in the race summary.

In the words of the late great Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on. And if that song gets stuck in your brain for the rest of the day, you’re welcome.

MotoGP 2018 Season Preview, Part II

March 10, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
All Along the Watchtower

An odd subhead for a glance at the teams, the haves and have nots, those with title aspirations, and those barely aspirating at all. And, just to be clear, Jimi Hendrix’s cover kicked the crap out of Dylan’s original.

Angel Nieto (Aspar Ducati) Team
Karel Abraham and Alvaro Bautista

Have Nots. Always the flower girls, never a bridesmaid. This lot should find itself more or less where it ended last year, Bautista 12th and Abraham 20th. Both riders, now officially “journeymen,” on second-hand Ducatis, on a team that is usually under-financed. Only a true cynic would suggest Aspar re-named the team in order to attract more Spanish sponsorship money. Tranche-wise, a three and a four.

Aprilia Factory Racing
Aleix Espargaro and Scott Redding

Have Nots. Scientists tell us there are entire planets in faraway galaxies whose inhabitants worship the image of Aleix Espargaro putting Aprilia on Earth’s MotoGP podium. He came close a few times last year, turned some fast laps in qualifying, but the bike does not yet appear to be there. Not enough grunt, too many mechanicals. In an effort to add grunt, the team signed the full-sized Scott Redding, who promptly found the bottom quartile of the timesheets at both Valencia and Sepang.

Redding and Espargaro finished 14th and 15th respectively last year, with Redding on the Ducati GP16. The expectation here is that Espargaro improves marginally and Redding continues his decline. The new Brit will be an improvement over Sad Sam Lowes, but expect the whining to commence at any moment. Aleix could be a two. Redding, who last year alternated between a three and a four, will likely drop a notch, alternating between a four and a five. Butt ugly.

Ducati Factory Team
Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo

Two Haves. JLo appeared to find his lost mojo at Sepang, only to lose it again at Buriram. Dovi ran 4th at Sepang, not seeming to break a sweat, and 7th at Buriram. There have always been tracks that were difficult for the Ducati, but Dovizioso figured most of them out last year. Should Lorenzo figure them out this year, Gigi Dall’Igna and company could have two fast packages to throw at Marc Marquez and Honda in 2018. I just have this feeling that JLo has lost something. Jorge is a man in need of a comeback.

Ducati Corse seems to continue devoting vast resources to this long-term project (code name: Project Leanangle) to get the Desmosedici to turn and has been doing so since the time Rossi was there. Gigi may, in fact, be finally leading them to The Promised Land. Tranche One may get crowded this season.

KTM Factory Team
Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro

Have Nots. So, the conventional wisdom is that KTM is, in its inexorable Teutonic fashion, preparing to conquer the MotoGP world. It is in the process of striking a deal to become the KTM satellite team. KTM wants, at the corporate level, to stick one in the eye of Honda Racing, going to far as to mimic Repsol colors in its livery. 😊

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be happening with the current tandem of Smith and Espargaro. KTM is grooming a stable of riders in Moto2 and Moto3, some of whom may eventually ride for them in MotoGP. Last year, the current pair finished 17th and 21st, the Spaniard taking team honors and little else. Due to a number of circumstances the team ended up with the same pair for 2018. So, it looks like another year to collect data, to work on the bike, all in preparation for some major rider contracts on offer later this year. Sadly, I expect both riders to hang out around tranches three and four. Espargaro may be slowed early in the season by a back injury sustained at the Sepang test.

LCR Honda
Takaaki Nakagami and Cal Crutchlow

One Have Not and a Maybe. LCR takes a step up the food chain as Honda buys a second rider, agreeable Moto2 grad and underachiever Taka Nakagami, to join up with the historically disgruntled Cal Crutchlow in a tandem readers of Richard Scarry’s children’s books will recognize as Pig Will and Pig Won’t. Crutchlow had a disappointing 2017 after closing 2016 with a couple of wins in 7th place, only to finish winless in 9th place last year. Some writers would say, “Told you so, mate.”

Nakagami had to be encouraged with 15th in Sepang, while Cal was cruising to a top three finish there. Life, in winter, is good. One would expect Cal to have a better season this year were it not for names like Miller and Rins and Zarco, never mind the factory Honda and Yamaha outfits. Outlook: Tranche 2 for Crutchlow, Tranche 4 for Nakagami.

Marc VDS Honda
Thomas Luthi and Franco Morbidelli

Have Nots. Two rookie Moto2 grads, one a journeyman, one a savant. Sadly, it will take more than a savant to get many top ten results on the satellite Honda. The Marc VDS MotoGP Racing Team is distinguished, as dad used to say, only by its utter lack of distinction. Their riders finished 11th and 19th last year with the former, Jack Miller, having thoroughly worn out his welcome with HRC in the process. Tito Rabat, who moved to the Reale Avintia Ducati team this year, is trying desperately to avoid the “Bust” tag being crafted for him, a 2012 Moto2 world champion.

Morbidelli, with two Moto2 championships in hand, must be hoping the team abandons Honda and joins up with Suzuki next year, a change which would brighten his future without much of a change of scenery. Luthi, one suspects, is simply happy to be here. Being a utility player in the big leagues beats the crap out of being an all-star in Triple A. As March approaches, Frankie looks like a three/four, Luthi a four/five.

Monster Yamaha Tech3
Johann Zarco and Hafizh Syahrin

One Have, one Maybe. With Jonas Folger out for 2018, I was jocking Johnny Rea to get an American into MotoGP in a once-in-a-career opportunity. (I would argue he’s faster than anyone currently available. Contract-wise it was probably impossible.) So, unemployed Colombian Jonny Hernandez was called upon for the Sepang test and said, “Sure.” He did pretty well, never having been on a Yamaha before.

In a raging upset, Malaysian idol and Moto2 veteran Hafizh Syahrin was selected to saddle up next to Zarco this year, the first of his countrymen ever to do so. Syahrin is fearsome in the rain, but faces a steep, and likely painful, learning curve. We wish him well. He turned in a credible performance during his debut in Thailand, and another in Qatar. A podium in the rain could actually be in his future later in the season.

Even with Zarco reverting to the 2016 M1 chassis, the visions of sugarplums dancing in Poncharal’s head vanished once it was determined that Folger would miss the entire season. Recall how Fausto Gresini ended up with the despicable Spaniard Alvaro Bautista in 2011 when he lost his #1 guy at Sepang. Hopefully Herve’s luck is better today than Gresini’s was back then. The serenely competent French sophomore looks ready to carry the load for the Monster team this season in Tranche Two; he may make a few appearances in the top tier. Although he is expected back next year, there is no guarantee that Jonas Folger will ever race again.

MoviStar Yamaha (Factory)
Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales

Two Maxima Haves. Yamaha suits are saying the 2018 M1 is built on a 2016-style chassis. They’ve already signed Viñales for 2019-2020, and Rossi is said to be weighing an offer of a new contract as this goes to press. Were he an American football player they would describe his condition as “year-to-year.” In the most recent photograph I’ve seen of him, he looked old, tired and worn out. But, in the words of Nick Harris, “Count Rossi out at your peril.”

Sepang was a puzzle for both riders, as they topped the timesheets on Day 2, changed nothing, and couldn’t get out of their own way on Day 3. The same thing happened in Thailand. Apparently this occurred several times last season as well. The gremlins in the Yamaha garage may have been sussed out in the last testing weekend. Both riders will sit in Tranche One on March 17.

Alma Pramac (Ducati) Racing
Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller

Jack Miller.

Knock me over with a feather. I need a new slot for these two: Kinda Maybes.

Although I generally ignore the Valencia testing, riders shaking hands with new bikes, I couldn’t help but notice that on the combined sheets Miller sat in 7th place, 6/10ths behind Marquez. On his first two days on a satellite Ducati. Fine. But then he shows up at Sepang and is eerily fast and consistent all three days. On a bike that is, according to Jorge Lorenzo, difficult to learn how to ride. Fine. Sepang is a Ducati layout; three of the top five times were recorded by Italian machines.

I’m already appalled at the volume of “Told you so, mate” comments heading my way from Down Under, with Kiwis piling on not simply because they share the accent; doing so reminds them, as does everything, of rugby.

Petrucci shows up in Sepang having lost 10 pounds from last year. Danilo needs to fish or cut bait this season. Riding essentially the same bike as Dovizioso and Lorenzo, he recorded two podiums and five DNFs in 2017. If he ever wants to toil for a factory team, any factory team, he needs to reverse those numbers. As my old boss used to say, right now would be fine.

One of these two is going to spend most of the season in Tranche Two, the other in Three. Miller may finally demonstrate on the Ducati the potential he never showed on the Honda. Okay, he won a race. So did Chris Vermeulen.

Reale Avintia (Ducati) Racing
Tito Rabat and Xavier Simeon

The oddest couple on the block. Rabat, whose career appears to have peaked in 2012 with his Moto2 title, and now Simeon, curiously promoted from Moto2 after having accomplished virtually nothing. Rabat, circling the bowl, trying to rescue his career on the Ducati, along with this second guy. Someone needs to explain to me the thinking behind signing Simeon. Eight years in Moto2, never finished higher than seventh, one win. Turns 29 this year. WTF.

His daddy must own a large chain of liquor stores.

Repsol Honda (Factory)
Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa

Two Maxima Haves. Last year, Marquez started the season in Tranche One; by season’s end, he was the only occupant therein. Dani Pedrosa, whose boy Alberto Puig has taken Livio Suppo’s seat as Chief Cheddar of the Repsol racing effort, looked strong in Sepang and again at Buriram. Pedrosa must realize it’s now or never. He needs to stay out of the hospital.

Marc Marquez, with four premier class titles in five years, looks formidable again this year. There will be more contenders than any in recent memory; to that extent, he will have to do more close work in the turns than he might prefer, but so it goes. His strategy last year was to hold on by his fingernails early in the season while some fast mover—Viñales, as it turned out—made a scalded-cat-type start in the early rounds, return to Europe and apply pressure, aiming to make the turn into the summer break in the lead. He then proceeded to blow away his competitors throughout the second half, finally breaking Dovizioso in Australia.

This would appear to be a sound strategy again in 2018.

Dani Pedrosa can no longer simply be Marquez’s wingman. Dani Pedrosa needs to fight for the championship this year, which promises to be his last credible opportunity to do so. Should he fail, HRC appears ready, willing and able to sign another rider in his place, for the first time in over a decade. Speculation as to whom that rider may be will occupy much of the season. This is true even with his Svengali and sponsor Puig at the reins.

Not to mention that Pedrosa might be an attractive candidate for KTM, Aprilia or Suzuki in 2019, his skills at sussing out performance issues and generating useable data second to none. Say what you will, Dani Pedrosa has forgotten more about grand prix racing than many of the fast movers in Moto2 and Moto3 have ever known. He could be an effective mentor, kind of a player/coach, for one of the younger teams.

Suzuki (Factory) Ecstar
Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins

Have Nots, but not for long. Concessions again. I keep reading that the top end speed is still insufficient, that they’re spending their money on the wrong stuff. Then I read that they’ve more power this year and could very well lose their concessions again. Rins seems pretty happy and should be vastly improved this season; his sixth-place work at Sepang did not go un-noticed. Iannone, as usual, is impossible to predict.

I will happily predict, therefore, that Rins will finish ahead of Iannone this season. Rins had mad skills in Moto3 and Moto2, comparable to Viñales. For him, 2017 was a learning experience: Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. Alex Rins is a Tranche Two guy; Iannone a Three. As last year vividly illustrated, Suzuki needs a satellite team in MotoGP to generate enough data to effectively play catch-up with the big boys.

Your 2018 Forecast

You need rocks in your head to bet against Marc Marquez taking his fifth premier class title in 2018. He is, head and shoulders, the best rider out there. I suspect Dani Pedrosa (assuming he doesn’t break a collarbone or two) may prove that he is back by chasing Marquez to the end of the season, winning two or three races along the way. Third place appears to belong to Maverick Viñales, who needs a more competitive/consistent ride under him than was the case last year. I believe Andrea Dovizioso will end up fourth, and Valentino Rossi fifth. Dovi is everyone’s dark horse this year.
Riders six through ten could include Jorge Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow, Johann Zarco, Jack Miller and Alex Rins. If Zarco and Pedrosa trade places, it wouldn’t surprise that many fans. That would be a handing of the baton.

Riders 11 through 15 could include Danilo Petrucci, Franco Morbidelli, Aleix Espargaro, Alvaro Bautista and Andrea Iannone.

Riders 16 through 24 will float between Tranches Four and Five: Nakagami, Rabat, Simeon, Redding, Pol Espargaro, Tom Luthi, Abraham, and Smith. Syahrin could end up in Tranche Four, with a potential look at Three by the end of the season.

So let the games begin. We will have a preview of each round, beginning with Qatar, on the Tuesday before the race, with race results and analysis posted as quickly as possible by a group of editors not accustomed to working on weekends. If you need more—yeah, I know—MotoGP, please visit my Facebook page.

Cheers!

MotoGP 2017 Season Review

November 24, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marc Marquez Proves It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The final installment of this year’s diatribe should, one thinks, start with an examination of the season preview from back in February. Heading into Qatar, the conventional thinking was that Maverick Vinales, newly and firmly ensconced on the factory Yamaha, the best bike on earth of late, would challenge triple world champion Marc Marquez and his Repsol Honda—you remember, the one with the acceleration issues—for the world championship.

It didn’t work out that way, as the fight ended up being between Marquez and journeyman Ducati #2 (behind the newly signed Lorenzo) Andrea Dovizioso, with Marquez, as expected, taking home the hardware and Dovi displacing Jorge Lorenzo on the #1 Ducati, at a fraction of the price.

Here are some pertinent snippets from the season preview eight months ago:

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

We ended the season in virtually complete agreement that in 2017 Marquez is the only true Alien, with Rossi, Dovizioso, and Vinales chasing, Pedrosa and Lorenzo hanging onto relevance by their fingernails. We discovered that the 2017 Yamaha M1 was inferior to the 2016 model, as the Tech 3 team of Zarco and Folger pressed the factory boys all year, especially in the rain. Vinales disappointed many, especially given his sensational start to the season.

Recall, after Le Mans, the top seven looked like this:

1. Maverick Vinales 85
2. Dani Pedrosa 68
3. Valentino Rossi 62
4. Marc Marquez 58
5. Johann Zarco 55
6. Andrea Dovizioso 54
7. Cal Crutchlow 40

Vinales was clear of the field by 17 points with three wins in the first five rounds. Had it not been for a regrettable crash out of the points at Austin his lead would have been even greater. Marquez had crashed out at Argentina and again at Le Mans, looking somewhat ragged early in the season. During the spring of 2017, it appeared the fans jocking Vinales might be right, that Marquez’s reign, like a 4th of July sparkler, could be blindingly bright and all too brief.

Let’s just be done with the castigation thing as re Jorge Lorenzo. Despite owning three premier class titles, he has a host of problems. He’s a narcissist, which means few people would be inclined to come to his rescue if, say, he found himself sitting in 18th place after two rounds, his season in tatters, his employers paying Triple World Champion salary prices and having gone public with their over-inflated expectations for 2017. If Lorenzo was on fire in the middle of the street Valentino Rossi wouldn’t stop to piss on him. Lorenzo stood there, smirking, and watched Rossi suffer for two years on the Ducati, then went and did the exact same thing for the same reasons, money and ego. I had expected him to be in the top five most rounds, which was not the case.

We’ll talk about Rossi later.

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

So we had Dovizioso ranked ahead of Lorenzo, about whom we had serious doubts heading into the season. We missed on Crutchlow, who had a forgettable year after a solid 2016 but will happily show you pictures of his daughter. We missed on Iannone, Rins and the whole Suzuki project, which we expected to take another step forward and which, instead, went the other way, moonwalking for the first half of the season. Rins got hurt, missed a bunch of races, but came back looking stronger at the end of the season than he had early. Iannone waited until the last few rounds to awaken from his season-long stupor and do some racing.

Rookie of the Year Johann Zarco stole the show in 2017, coming up from Moto2 with a trophy in each hand—the only rider ever to do so—and immediately taking to the 2016 M1 for the Monster Tech 3 team. The early part of his season was extraordinary, capped by a front row start and podium in front of his homeys at Le Mans. He then went into a bit of a funk during the middle of the season, but finished strong, with brilliant performances on the Pacific swing and in Valencia—started and finished second—that have him itching for 2018 to start tomorrow. Stories are emerging that suggest Yamaha wants him to take Rossi’s seat in 2019. He’s a hot property, but a little long in the tooth to be Alien material (he turns 28 in July.)

• “Pramac, Aspar and Avintia Reale get new old Ducati hardware, which could improve prospects for Hectic Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista.”

We suggested Danilo Petrucci, aboard the Pramac GP17 would likely be in the mix for some wet rounds, which he was until tailing off late in the season. Barbera was perhaps the single biggest bust of the year, injured during the last pre-season test and never finding his rhythm ever after an encouraging 2016 and offseason. Punched his ticket back to Moto2, his career no longer in what one might call the ascendant stage. And Bautista wasn’t much better, although he gets to stick around for at least another year. Loris Baz lost his ride, Redding trudged off to Aprilia in a headscratcher, a second one occurring when Pramac Ducati signed the lost-at-sea Tito Rabat to a deal for 2018, taking over for Redding. Moving the second seat on the team from the frying pan into the fire, if you ask me.

So, as regards the Ducati contingent, we were mostly wrong about Lorenzo, Dovizioso, and Petrucci. True, we were also wrong about Barbera, Bautista, and Baz. And we were surprised by (wrong about) Karel Abraham, who showed more this season than he has thus far in his entire career. Undeterred, we will point out that we expected next to nothing from Scott Redding and he delivered. He will now take his Stiff Upper Lip to Aprilia with his customary high expectations, although, having ridden the RS-GP in Valencia for two days, he spoke during an interview of the need for Aprilia to “make the bike more user-friendly.”

That didn’t take long.

Sure, Scott. Given the choice between redesigning the entire frigging bike or directing a mediocre rider to lose 20 pounds, Aprilia is probably more inclined to go back to the drawing board. You wanker.

• “It would take another Assen-type miracle for either of the Marc VDS riders, Jack Miller and Tito Rabat, to win this year.”

Just sayin’. Miller earned a promotion to the Octo Pramac Ducati team for his efforts, while Rabat somehow managed to talk the Reale Avintia team into taking a chance on him. It will be interesting to see if Miller can wheedle a GP18 out of Gigi Dall’Igna or whether he will have to pay his dues on a 17. Rabat, showing nothing of the greatness he possessed in Moto2, is lucky to still be employed. Okay, the second half of his 2017 was better than the first. There.

Let’s Take a Closer Look

We need to talk about Valentino Rossi. Before we do, let’s tip our hats to the 2017 riders who have escaped mention thus far.
• Dani Pedrosa. Another competitive season, two more wins on Spanish soil. Low maintenance and a serviceable wingman for Marquez. I just keep thinking that there is a lot of young talent on its way up and that sooner or later Honda will make a change. I thought they would last year. I think they will after 2018. But that’s just me.
• Cal Crutchlow. Ninth for the year, no wins, another year older—33 next year—appears to have reached the high water mark of his career last season. His body is beaten up and older than he is. Will have a rookie teammate next year to corrupt. He gets quoted in the press way too often for a mid-pack rider. Probably because he gets to speak in his first language, unlike most of the contenders. I imagine he’s not the hot interview target on Telemundo that he is on BBC Sports.
• Jonas Folger. Zarco’s rookie J&J Tech 3 buddy, he podiumed in Germany before his season was ended prematurely by injury and illness. Folger showed way more than I expected early in the year, possibly because he, too, was piloting the 2016 Yamaha M1, perhaps the best bike on the grid. If he improves even a little and can stay healthy, his bank account could get laced in 2019, too, along with frère Johann.
• Aleix Espargaro again brought his “win or die trying” spirit to Aprilia, and paid the price. Though showing moments of brilliance, he failed to finish eight races and failed to start another due to crashing out, getting hurt, and suffering a number of mechanical letdowns. His 2017 bike was better than his 2016, and 2018 should be better yet. But dude needs to stay on the bike. Next year he’ll have Scott Redding instead of the departed Sam Lowes to make him look good.
• Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. The rookie KTM tandem had an encouraging year, despite accumulating 8 DNFs and no podiums, with top ten finishes hard to come by. Espargaro had the better of Smith most of the year, crashing out more often but finishing on top for the season. KTM, according to rumor, covets Zarco for 2019, too, and is said to be over Bradley Smith.
• Finally, Sad Sam Lowes. Sam failed to accumulate the required 10 points during an entire 18 round season, for God’s sake, necessary to qualify for a final disparagement in this column, and so we simply wish Sam good luck and Godspeed in Moto2.

Last but not least, Valentino Rossi. I seem to be something of a rare breed in that I neither love nor despise The Doctor. He went into the 2017 season as a dark horse for the title and sat grinning in first place during those halcyon days after Jerez and before Le Mans, where things started going downhill for the nine-time world champion. Crashing out of the front row at Le Mans, then breaking his leg later in the year, and it was all she wrote. He was never comfortable on the 2017 Yamaha, and was uncompetitive in the rain. Objectively speaking, despite having some brilliant moments, he was not the Rossi we have watched over the years, even as recently as 2015.

There are people out there—smart, otherwise-lucid folks—who sit in delirious anticipation of Rossi’s triumphant exit from MotoGP on the heels of his 10th world championship in 2018. Seriously, there are. But it’s simply not going to happen. He is old enough to have fathered most of the riders in Moto2 and all of the riders in Moto3. He is accumulating scar tissue at an accelerating rate. Yamaha needs to give him and Vinales a better bike for 2018. Even if they do, it won’t be Rossi hoisting the 2018 trophy, although it could be his teammate. Which would really piss him off. I believe next season will be his last as a full-time rider. One could easily see him as a Yamaha wildcard at Mugello and Misano in 2019 and beyond.

The 2017 Season in One Paragraph

The opening third of the season was owned and operated by the factory Yamaha team, which held first place for the first seven rounds. During the middle of the season, Rossi and Vinales began to falter somewhat, Marquez started finding his breathtaking rhythm and Andrea Dovizioso started winning races. By the last third of the year, it was a shootout between Marquez and Dovizioso, one which appeared to have been settled at Phillip Island but was, arguably, settled at Aragon, in that the standings of the top eight riders after Round 14 matched the final 2017 standings.

2017 Season Graph color snip

Although we enjoyed the drama of the Pacific swing and Valencia, in hindsight those four rounds ended up having little to do with the final results. Which is not to say that a number of us weren’t pretty geeked up at Motegi and Phillip Island. It was nerve-wrenching to watch Marquez playing defense and Dovizioso on offense. In the end, the title was decided at Valencia, just not in the manner for which most of us had been hoping.

As an aside, the spreadsheet appears to support the old golfing adage that you drive for show and putt for dough. Spraying the ball off the tee, then making long putts for saves and, finally, the win, is how the smart ones do it. In contrast to his fabled 2014 season, it took Marquez a while to understand the new bike and find his rhythm. Once he did, in Barcelona, and as he got closer to the 18th green in Valencia, he started making those putts. From then on he was essentially unstoppable.

Final Tranches of 2017

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez
Tranche 2: Andrea Dovizioso, Maverick Vinales, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Johann Zarco
Tranche 3: Jorge Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow, Jonas Folger, Alex Rins, Pol Espargaro, Aleix Espargaro, Andrea Iannone, Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci, Alvaro Bautista
Tranche 4: Bradley Smith, Scott Redding, Loris Baz
Tranche 5: Sam Lowes, Tito Rabat, Hector Barbera, Karel Abraham

The Last Word

MotoGP 2017 confirmed several pre-season predictions and missed on a few others.
Marc Marquez is the rider of the decade, discussion closed. The sun is setting on Valentino Rossi. Jorge Lorenzo made a huge mistake taking his game to Ducati. Maverick Vinales is going to be a premier class champion, just not right away. Andrea Dovizioso still has plenty of gas in his tank. The KTM team is going to be nails in the near future. Johann Zarco is the class of the rookie class of 2017, with Folger and Rins not far behind. And, with plenty of hot young talent in the pipeline, MotoGP in 2017 is as good as it’s ever been.

 

MotoGP Motegi Results

October 15, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

DesmoDovi Smokes Marquez; Race Tightens

For the second time this season, Factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and Repsol Honda prodigy Marc Marquez gave us a late-race knives-in-a-phonebooth duel, a ten-point spread in the standings at the top of the heap at stake. And for the second time this season, Dovizioso prevailed in what was almost a carbon copy of the first win, a last lap exchange of fortunes in Austria. Now it’s Two for the Road, as the two “blessed” riders in this year’s championship, separated by 11 points, seem destined to square off in Valencia.

Then There Were Two

Entering today’s race, there were, like, two and a half contenders for the title, as Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi had been eliminated every which way but mathematically, and Yamaha savant Maverick Vinales was hanging on to contention by his fingernails. Now, with all three chasers having had counterproductive days, it has come down to Marquez and Dovizioso.

Both riders, as we’ve said before, are at the top of their respective games. Unfortunately, it took Dovi an extra few years to arrive, causing him to miss the rock star status afforded the Spaniard. But he is the only rider out there able to trail Marquez for the lead and the title and feel good about it. The most successful Ducati pilot of the last ten years, Dovizioso appears to welcome these last lap duels, treating them like tic tac toe matches in which one gradually limits the possible responses available to the opponent until the door is closed. In post-race interviews, he and Marquez laughed about knowing the strategy each other would use in the last few turns.

Practice and Qualifying

Racing in the rain on Friday and Saturday produced a set of Unusual Suspects in both Q1 and Q2. Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso especially found things suiting their fancies on Friday and led the way directly into Q2 joined, eventually, by the likes of both factory Suzuki riders, Pedrosa and Petrucci, Zarco, Rossi, Lorenzo, and one Aleix Espargaro, having flogged his Aprilia RS-GP to the third best combined time on the grid.

The wet conditions, as always, pushed some familiar names down into Q1; the Usual Suspects welcomed Maverick Vinales, Cal Crutchlow, Alvaro Bautista and the cadre of Japanese subs and wildcards to the nether regions. The feel-good moment of the entire weekend occurred at the end of Q1 when both factory KTMs advanced into Q2. For being an enormous Austrian engineering and manufacturing behemoth KTM sure attracts a lot of warm fuzzies from MotoGP fans, with their bold colors, plucky riders and virtually unlimited budgets.

Q2 offered a number of great moments and a case study in not counting one’s eggs before they hatch. Marquez laid down a rapid early lap on rain tires, looking invincible, and rode around for awhile on a drying track before pitting and ending the session futilely on slicks. Valentino Rossi tried to qualify on slicks, desperately seeking solutions, failed, and would start Sunday’s race in 12th position.

A number of riders chose to attempt their flying lap on the last go-round, including Petrucci into a blistering second, Aleix Espargaro missing the front row by an eyelash, and Johann Zarco, coming out of nowhere, seized his second premier class pole of 2017 on the 2016 Yamaha. (His first, at Assen, led to a 14th place finish.) With top pursuers Andrea Dovizioso starting 9th and Maverick Vinales 14th, the title chase appeared primed to take a beating on Sunday.

As the Lights Went Out

Jorge Lorenzo followed Marquez’s hole shot into second place at the start and took the lead in Turn 9. Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Ducati and polesitter Johann Zarco had their noses in it, with Dovizioso going through on Zarco on Lap 2 and Petrucci doing the same to Lorenzo to take the lead. With Doviozoso in the mix and Vinales out of it, the front four became, on Lap 4, Petrucci, Lorenzo, Marquez and Dovizioso. A Ducati triple-team on poor young Marc. Not to worry. Lorenzo began to actively work his way backwards, falling from podium contention to 8th by Lap 6.

My boy Cal Crutchlow pitted on Lap 6 and crashed out on Lap 16. Rossi, enjoying a miserable weekend in the rain, crashed out on Lap 6, too, joined by Karel Abraham and the Nosane kid subbing for Jonas Folger on the Tech 3 Yamaha. For Nosane, the weekend must have been like you or me being dropped into the cockpit of Miss Budweiser in time for Thunder on the Ohio. No problem, the life vest inflates upon impact! For Rossi, his second crash in two years here puts an exclamation point on his disappointing 2017 season.

Anyway, early on it appeared Petrucci might get away for his first ever premier class win, until both Marquez and Dovizioso reeled him in. On Lap 14, both went through on the swarthy Italian, consigned him to a distant third step on the podium, and rode off for their private confab.

Mano à Mano for Ten Laps

After a few rather relaxed laps of lining him up, Doviozoso sailed through on Marquez on Lap 19, with Marquez returning the favor, a bit rudely, on Lap 22. This was the point at which I expected Marquez to get away. Instead, they exchanged the lead several more times until Lap 24, when Doviozoso found himself surviving a final desperate dive from Marquez with the extra drive coming out of Victory Corner necessary to pimp the Spaniard at the flag. This is a Reader’s Digest summary of what was a number of laps of insanely great racing by the two best in the game at this moment in history.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Fan favorite Aleix Espargaro drove his Aprilia from a 4th place start, a whisker off the front row, to a satisfying 7th place finish. The KTMs of Smith and Espargaro cleared Q1 and started 7th and 8th, respectively. Though they could only manage 11th (Espargaro) and 19th (Smith) things are looking up in KTMTown. The factory Suzuki team, fronted by Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins, came to sudden life this weekend, qualifying 10th and 11th and finishing—gasp—4th (Iannone) and 5th (Rins). Two Suzukis in the top five, in the rain.

For the moment, two riders have lost their Alien status; Tranche 1 has been pared down. Tranches 2 and 3 are, therefore, inflated.

After Round 14 Aragon

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

After Round 15 Motegi

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

Marching to Praetoria

Time just to catch our breath before coming up with a completely new, more
Australian set of out-of-round observations about some people’s favorite sport. At least at this point we can narrow our focus down to the two top guys, both of whom need to do some serious crashing before Maverick Vinales becomes relevant again.

Phillip Island appears custom-designed for the Desmosedici GP17. We have some research to do prior to mid-week, when the Australian GP preview comes your way. All I’m willing to say for sure, at this point, is that a meaningful Valencia finale just became more plausible, not less. Personally, I would like to see Dovi beat Marquez 1-2 in the next two rounds, at which point they would go to Valencia separated by a single point.

It could happen. Dovizioso needs no worse than a draw with Marquez over the next two rounds. Another win, or two, would be utterly convenient. As he has obviously learned by now, championships are won by putting the hammer down in those clutch, fight-or-flee moments. Throwing caution to the wind and letting your instincts and balance take over. He and the bike are finally one. He knows Marquez is going to come with both barrels blazing. As he did today, he needs to continue to channel the late Tom Petty:

“Well, I won’t back down.
No I won’t back down.
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down…
Gonna stand my ground.”    –Tom Petty   “I Won’t Back Down”