Posts Tagged ‘johann zarco’

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.

 

Final Tuesday Valencia Test Times

November 15, 2017

Final test results for Tuesday, courtesy of Autosport.com. Interesting that both Rossi and Viñales are doing a “Marquez” on a 2016 chassis. Miller, Zarco and Aleix continue to impress.

Pos
Driver
Team
Gap
Laps
1
Maverick Viñales
Yamaha
1m30.189s
80
2
Johann Zarco
Tech3 Yamaha
0.200s
53
3
Marc Marquez
Honda
0.312s
70
4
Valentino Rossi
Yamaha
0.330s
63
5
Jack Miller
Pramac Ducati
0.446s
57
6
Aleix Espargaro
Aprilia
0.567s
51
7
Andrea Dovizioso
Ducati
0.661s
50
8
Jorge Lorenzo
Ducati
0.870s
48
9
Pol Espargaro
KTM
0.977s
56
10
Cal Crutchlow
LCR Honda
1.070s
55
11
Dani Pedrosa
Honda
1.139s
52
12
Bradley Smith
KTM
1.226s
53
13
Tito Rabat
Avintia Ducati
1.484s
70
14
Danilo Petrucci
Pramac Ducati
1.532s
46
15
Scott Redding
Aprilia
1.886s
64
16
Karel Abraham
Aspar Ducati
2.256s
66
17
Takaaki Nakagami
LCR Honda
2.534s
76
18
Franco Morbidelli
MVDS Honda
2.573s
78
19
Takumi Takahashi
MVDS Honda
3.380s
55
20
Xavier Simeon
Avintia Ducati
4.053s
43

The rest of the story – Valencia 2017

November 14, 2017

© Bruce Allen 2017

For me, the race was pretty engaging, even without a lot of overtaking. The tension at the front was palpable. Zarco drunk with the thought of popping his cherry and that of the entire Monster Tech 3  ecosystem, the best rider on earth keeping a safe distance behind him. Then it was Lorenzo and Dovi for most of the race, confounding, looking to all the world as if Lorenzo was impeding the Italian. Then it’s Marquez going in hot and, with an assist from the racing gods, staying in the race. Then it was the loathsome Lorenzo hitting the deck, followed immediately by Dovi, and that was that.

Well, no. There were some 20 other riders out there, some of whom need mention, a number of whom do not. This post will discuss some of them, the next post the rest.

In the order of their finish for the year, we saw

  • Marc Marquez–see Valencia results below.
  • Andrea Dovizioso likewise. He deserves a new teammate next season.
  • Maverick Vinales on the factory Yamaha, third for the year, with aspirations for a title as the season began. His season ended poorly at Valencia in the dry, as he qualified 13th and finished 12th. He had little to fight for, but the suits were around, and he made them look bad, almost costing Yamaha the #2 spot in the constructor’s championship. Lots of work in store for him and the team over the winter testing season. In the long run 2017 may have been good for the Maverick, disabusing him of any notion he is a god.
  • Dani Pedrosa–see Valencia results below. Next year probably his last with Repsol Honda.
  • Valentino Rossi started and finished seventh; not sure I heard his name called all day. Problems with the bike late in the season frustrating him to no end. More broken bones in 2017. Here’s a thought that will get the juices of #46 fans going: He was better when the competition (men and machines) was weak. Since his last title in 2009, too many great riders have been in his way–Lorenzo, Stoner and Marquez, specifically, with more coming–for him to go on stacking titles. Next year, I believe, will be his last, and he will retire with nine world championships, piles of money, women, power and influence. He can spend the rest of his career Being Valentino Rossi, becoming the Roger Penske of MotoGP. Let’s try not to feel too bad for Vale.
  • Johann Zarco–see Valencia results below. VERY hot ticket for 2019–KTM wants him.
  • Jorge Lorenzo–Gigi should bolt a sidecar to a GP13, don the helmet sans visor, and ride around with him next season, all 19 races, yelling at him in expletive-laced Italian about what a coño he is. Hold a major press conference in May announcing his contract will not be renewed and, no, he doesn’t know who their second rider might be in 2019. Remain in the sidecar through the end of the year.
  • Danilo Petrucci had high expectations heading into the season which were immediately dashed. Sunday was another one of those days, as Petrux finished 13th after starting 15th. Completely gassed after a year wrestling the GP17. New teammate next year in Jack Miller. Super.
  • Cal Crutchlow. Started 16th–nice–and finished eighth on Sunday. Five DNFs in 2017. No wins. Just another tranche 3 rider. Getting a teammate for next year in Taka Nakagami, who should post similar results. Taka comes to the team riding a huge wave of sponsor money which, for LC, is at least as good as superior talent. Ho. Hum.
  • Rounding out the top ten is rookie Jonas Folger, whose promising season was cut to ribbons by injury and illness. His return next year, on some iteration of the Yamaha M1, should be special, and I expect him to push teammate JZ all year long.

We will discuss the remaining riders in a few days. I glanced at testing a few minutes ago (it was on mute, so I’m not up to speed on the bikes) to find Marquez at the top of the sheet along with Zarco, Vinales and Pedrosa. More to come on that, too.

 

 

MotoGP Valencia Preview

November 6, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso vs. Marquez: David vs. Goliath 2017 

So, 2017 has all come down to this–a technical showdown between Repsol Honda studmuffin Marc Marquez, gripping a 21-point lead, and a determined Andrea Dovizioso, virtually hopeless onboard the Ducati GP17, for all the marbles on Sunday. Even if Dovi wins, Marquez has to finish worse than 11th in order to choke this one away. To clarify, it is a showdown in only the most technical, theoretical sense. It will take a Dovizioso win and direct intervention by the racing gods to keep Marc Marquez from MotoGP title #4 on Sunday. 

Decades ago a nominally Catholic friend of mine came up with a premise as to which team eventually wins the NFL Super Bowl each season, The Blessed Quarterback Theory. Each year it’s just the blessed quarterback’s team that wins, regardless of anyone’s skill or resume. Paging Mark Rypien and Trent Dilfer. Works the same way in MotoGP. You look at the saves Marquez has made since coming up. Jorge Lorenzo was blessed in 2015. If Dovi somehow pulls it off on Sunday—millions hope he will—it will be because he, not Marquez, was the blessed rider in 2017. Otherwise, it’s status quo ante.

Recent history at Valencia 

The 2014 race was wet-ish and the title had been decided weeks earlier. Lorenzo slid out of the race late in the day. Marquez took the largely decorative win joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The day’s procession culminated in the coronation of Marquez for the second time in his first two years, and the MotoGP world appeared to be his oyster.

No one who reads this stuff is likely to forget the 2015 season finale, at which Jorge Lorenzo won from pole while loathed championship rival and “teammate” Valentino Rossi, having been penalized for his antics with Marquez in Sepang the previous round, was forced to start from the back of the grid and could only (only) make his way back to fourth place at the finish.  There was additional controversy as to why the Repsol Honda team appeared to ride as wingmen for Lorenzo, never seriously challenging him over the last few laps.

Last year, Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season.  Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration.  Jorge ended up winning the race, Marquez secured the title, and the podium celebration was awkward, the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he were crashing Lorenzo’s party, along with Andrea Iannone, who was, in fact, crashing Lorenzo’s party.

Of the Aliens or former Aliens, Pedrosa has three wins and three podia in 11 starts. Rossi has two wins and six podia to show for 17 starts since 2000, but the most recent of those was in 2004, when Marquez was 11 years old. Jorge Lorenzo, in eight premier class starts, has four wins and a third-place finish in 2009 to go along with several violent DNFs. Vinales has bupkus, but this is a Yamaha track. Or used to be.

Marquez can boast a win, two places and a show in four MotoGP tries, barely breaking a sweat. Just once, I’d like to see him race here in anger with something on the line.  Back in 2012, he won the Moto2 race here after starting 33rd. As for the factory Ducati team, you have one rider who desperately needs to win on Sunday and his currently winless teammate who has dominated at Ricardo Tormo in recent years.

This could get interesting. What is that term again?  Team orders?

A Word About Valentino Rossi

“You have to believe in what they can do, not what they’re doing.”

A.J. Hinch, Manager, World Champion Houston Astros

Over long periods of time, we all evaluate what these riders have done. The coach was referring to his leadoff hitter, and I’m talking about the folks who expect #46 to win his 10th, and last, MotoGP title in 2018. With Rossi, an objective assessment of what he’s done since his last title in 2009 suggests he peaked around 2008-2009. But the folks who wear goofy yellow wigs and set off smoke bombs and bombard me with constructive criticism believe in what Rossi can do—they’ve watched him do it for years—not what he’s doing. He is arguably the best MotoGP rider of all time. Just. Not. Now. Now, he is competitive—highly tranched, but not realistically expected to win titles. Unless you’ve got the wig and the smoke bombs and the Kool-Aid…

Final 2017 Tranches

After Round 16    Phillip Island 

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Dovi, Pedrosa, Zarco, A Espargaro, P Espargaro

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Rins, Iannone, Redding, Miller, Crutchlow, Lorenzo

Tranche 4:   Baz, Bautista, Smith, Abraham, Rabat

Tranche 5:   Lowes, (Folger), Barbera 

After Round 17    Sepang 

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Pedrosa, Zarco, A Espargaro*, Lorenzo

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Redding, Miller, Crutchlow, (P Espargaro)↓, Bautista↑ 

Tranche 4:   Baz, Smith, Rabat, Iannone↓, Rins

Tranche 5:   Lowes, (Folger), Barbera, Abraham 

After Sunday’s race we will compare the above tranching to the actual results, i.e., how many of the riders were in the correct group according to the final points. Folger, a top tenner all year, will get hosed, but that’s the way it goes. He would likely be a 3. 

(Wonder how Zarco and Folger feel about moving UP to the 2017 Tech 3 Yamaha M1 next season. Wonder if they’ll ask to stick with the 2016 iteration.) Zarco’s bank account gonna get laced in 2019 fo’ sho’. 

Final Thoughts and Weekend Forecast

Perhaps the reason Valencia is awarded the last race each season is the weather. Not that it’s always great, but because when it is great, it’s really great. The long- range forecast for the weekend is sunny, breezy, dry and perfect, with daytime temps reaching 70° F. Enough sun to warm the track and tires for the riders, and paradise for the teams and fans.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I think the best thing that could happen to this race would be for Marquez to blow an engine, slide or go walky out of the points in the first lap or two. This would eliminate any touchy, don’t-be-the-guy-who-cost-Marquez-the-title riding around him, which ain’t nobody need.

What it would do is make for an astonishingly meaningful race if Dovizioso is at or near the front with one or two of the other fast movers. Teammate and homeboy Lorenzo, who desperately wants his first win on the Ducati and has team orders to “help” Dovi. Homeboy Dani Pedrosa, untitled in the premier class, with team orders to beat Dovizioso. Homeboy Maverick Vinales, whose bike historically loves a dry Ricardo Tormo and who needs to fulfill my preseason prediction of four wins. Cal Crutchlow. Andrea Iannone. Sam Lowes. Someone.

So, as the sports seasons—football, basketball, hockey—start getting juicy in the United States, MotoGP is preparing to call it another year.  Reason #644 in my book 1000 Reasons MotoGP is Invisible in the United States, subtitled “Yet Another Reason I’m Not Rich and Famous.”

We are looking forward to a memorable race on Sunday, and will have results and analysis right here sometime, um, Sunday. Probably earlier if it is revealed that Andrea Dovizioso is the blessed rider of 2017. “Dog Bites Man” can wait until later in the day.

MotoGP Phillip Island Results

October 22, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Marquez Wins in Australia, Leads by 33

Honda triple MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez survived a crowded, snappish, paint-trading lead group today for the win that now makes the 2017 championship his to lose. With Yamahas everywhere, and guys like Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone bouncing around like pinballs, it was just another picture-perfect Phillip Island grand prix. The confounding Valentino Rossi somehow finished second today, teammate Maverick Vinales third. But having both factory Yamahas on the podium felt like a small achievement on the same day the team’s faint hopes for a championship came to an end.

Screenshot (44)Marc Marquez and RV213V fully engaged at Phillip Island.

The championship race, which has been tight all season, came unwound today. Andrea Dovizioso completed his dumpster fire of a weekend by getting broken at the line by both Scott Redding and Dani Pedrosa for a miserable 13th place finish, his deficit to Marquez ballooning from 11 to 33 points. Vinales was eliminated from title contention today, as Marquez now leads him by 50 points and holds the tiebreaker. The first match point between Marquez and Dovizioso comes next week. If Marquez can hold onto 26- of his 33-point lead, it will suddenly become game over, see ya next year.

Notes from Practice and Qualifying

FP2 on sunny and windy Saturday saw the top 13 riders in the 1:29’s, led by my boy Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia at 1:29.225. Everyone improved on their previous best times in FP1. With the weather expected to become inhospitable on Saturday, the FP2 times, which would then determine who passed directly into Q2, excluded both Rossi and Lorenzo, who would have to battle their way through Q1. Oy. Such indeed proved to be the case.

Both qualifying sessions were run on dry track. Rossi and Brad Smith— I know, right? –escaped to Q2, Smith putting both KTMs into Q2 for the second week in a row, a definite sign of improvement in 2017 for the Austrian giant. Lorenzo starting 16th should put to rest all this talk about him finally coming around, after doing his ankle laying it down in the grass during FP4. Scoreboard.

Q2 ended with several riders flirting with disaster (notably Andrea Dovizioso, mucking around in 11th, and Lorenzo) and several others delivering first class rides, including polesitter Marquez, who took it from Vinales, who had taken it from odds-on ROY Johann Zarco. Jack Miller gave his homeys a thrill qualifying 5th. Oddly, there were no Ducatis in the top ten and only one, Dovizioso, in the first four rows. And at a track I used to think plays up to their strengths, but I guess not. It did in the Stoner days. No Ducs in the front row at PI for the first time since 2006.

Good for the title chase is Marquez (fourth consecutive PI pole) and Vinales on the front row. Bad for the title chase is Dovizioso sitting on row four. Marquez telling Dylan Gray how comfortable he feels on the bike these days is bad news for the field. Dovi shrugged off his worst qualifying session since Jerez, claiming his race pace had him feeling confident. Marquez would give that confidence a test on Sunday afternoon.

All six manufacturers were represented in Q2. Very good sign for the sport. Marquez enters the second of three Pacific rounds with a perfect game plan: Lead, somehow, by 26 points or more heading home to Valencia.

Race Day

Sunday morning’s warm-up practice was run on a wet track, the results somewhat meaningless, although Marquez still found his way to the top. By the time the main event rolled around (after Joan Mir had clinched the Moto3 title and KTM had swept the top two positions in Moto2, deferring Franco Morbidelli’s title celebration, like Marquez’, to next week), the track was dry, the sun was shining, and the breeze had dropped. The heavy black rain clouds heading toward the track had the announcers speculating about a likely flag-to-flag race which, to the disappointment of many, failed to materialize.

Although Marquez took the holeshot into Turn 1, Jack Miller, screaming out of the middle of the second row, took the lead in Turn 2 and appeared to be actually getting away early. The vast majority of the crowd immediately went completely mental, convinced Stoner’s Australian Magic had descended upon Jackass, looking forward to hearing the national anthem twice in one day. Such was not to be, either, though he managed a very respectable 7th today and may need re-tranching.

What happened was that a lead group of eight riders started trading paint in the corners for about 20 laps, resembling a hybrid of Moto3 and NASCAR. The contestants included Marquez, Rossi, Vinales, Miller, Zarco, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia, and Andrea Iannone looking aggressive on the Suzuki. I do not recall ever seeing as many passes in the front group as we saw today. Nor have I seen more bumping and grinding in the turns, with most of the eight brawlers sporting black tire marks on their leathers afterwards. At the post-race presser, Rossi complained a little bit about the danger involved in all the bumping from the younger riders (i.e., everyone), but all three podium finishers agreed “that’s racing” and Race Direction found it necessary to examine exactly zero of the, um, encounters.

Lap 22 of 27 turned out to be critical. Vinales had just taken the lead from Marquez when he got tagged by Andrea Iannone, causing his heart to miss a beat as he wobbled back to seventh place. Marquez, who had the lead on the previous lap, retook it, leaving Rossi, Zarco and Iannone to slug it out for the last two podium spots, Rossi on one leg. While the three were slicing each other up, Vinales came storming back and, at the wire, slipped in front of Zarco by 1/100th of a second to deprive the Frenchman of his second premier class podium, the first since Le Mans. It was, indeed, a day of finish line punking, as illustrated by the following deficits to Marquez:

2 Valentino Rossi YAM +1.799
3 Maverick Vinales YAM +1.826
4 Johann Zarco YAM +1.842

5 Cal Crutchlow HON +3.845
6 Andrea Iannone SUZ +3.871

9 Pol Espargaro KTM +16.251
10 Bradley Smith KTM +16.262

11 Scott Redding DUC +21.652
12 Dani Pedrosa HON +21.668
13 Andrea Dovizioso DUC +21.692

It’s nice to see both KTMs and both Suzukis in the Top Ten. On the other hand, Phillip Island was a debacle of epic proportions for Ducati Corse as their top finisher (from eight that started) was Redding in 11th place. Someone somewhere knows how long it’s been since a Ducati failed to finish in the top ten anywhere. Dovizioso, the top title challenger coming into the weekend, got caught up in the generally bad juju the Ducati teams experienced all weekend, and watched as the last best title opportunity of his premier class career mostly went away. And, BTW, Johann Zarco and his Tech 3 Yamaha are developing a reputation as the second coming of The Maniac. Not a compliment.

On to Sultry, Sweltering Sepang

The teams continue the grueling Pacific swing with their annual visit to Malaysia, much of the season’s suspense and excitement having been dissipated by another brilliant performance from Marquez, for whom the second half of 2017 has been, well, kind of easy. Podiums everywhere since Mugello with the exception of having thrown a rod at Silverstone. Now leading the season series by 33 points with two rounds left, he is speaking out loud about the need to be patient and protective of his nascent championship. He needs only to beat a gutted Andrea Dovizioso next week to claim his fourth premier class title in five seasons.

Sepang, with its raving crowds, broiling tarmac, torrential rain and friendly layout, is where the 2017 title will likely be awarded. Until then, like him or hate him, let’s just salute Marc Marquez for the workmanlike manner in which he approaches his job these days. Little flash, no bling, just superhuman balance, comically quick reflexes, a wide field of vision and a positive working relationship with his lizard brain.

Screenshot (41)

Celebration Lap at Phillip Island 2017

 

 

MotoGP Misano Results

September 10, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez wins a classic; series tied

Magnificent Marc Marquez put on a last lap for his career highlight reel in beating a plucky Danilo Petrucci and conservative Andrea Dovizioso to the flag in a wet Tribul Mastercard GP San Marino e Riviera di Rimini. In doing so, he rained on Ducati’s parade, tied series leader Dovizioso for the championship lead heading to Aragon, and reminded those of us who watch racing how exceptionally gifted he truly is.

Marquez in MisanoThe weather gods pulled a 180° from Monday’s forecast, when it was supposed to be hot and sunny on Sunday, not Friday. Today’s rain scrambled the results in the morning WUP– witness Loris Baz sitting 3rd at the end of the session. Virtually no one had tested the 2015 racing surface in the rain. Ever. The main event, as they say, would be a lottery. Paging Jack Miller.

The Moto3 and Moto2 tilts were crashfests, half of the qualifiers in each failing to finish, and a number of points scorers having found the kitty litter not once, but twice, our old punching bag and substitute rider Alex de Angelis among them. It was easy to feel apprehensive as the MotoGP race approached

Practice and Qualifying

Marquez, Viñales and a bunch of Ducatis were making lots of noise on Friday and Saturday morning. Marquez recorded Saturday’s only sub-1:33 lap late in FP3. Hard-nosed Danilo Petrucci on a Desmo GP17 led the combined times until that point. Test rider Michele Pirro flogged his GP17 into Q2 along with a determined-looking Jorge Lorenzo, a big fan of this track when he rode in blue. Viñales was up near the top. Aleix Espargaro, happy with a new fairing, put his Aprilia into Q2. Cal Crutchlow, a lurking Dovizioso, Pedrosa and Zarco also passed Go and collected their $200.

Q1 was exciting in itself before the apparent graduates, Jack Miller on the Honda and Jonas Folger on the Tech 3 Yamaha, were both penalized for exceeding the track limit and dropped out of the pole pageant, the trophies going to Ducati pilots Alvaro Bautista and Karel “Don’t Call It a Comeback” Abraham. Q2 gave fans plenty for their money as Maverick Viñales, carrying the sole torch for the factory Yamaha delegation, pimped Andrea Dovizioso at the close to steal his first pole since Mugello. Despite crashing out on a hot lap late in the session, Marquez managed to hold on to the third grid spot, the top three contenders for the 2017 championship qualified second, third and first, respectively.

Cal Crutchlow, Jorge Lorenzo and Johann Zarco filled the second row. The perfect weather conditions of Friday and Saturday were expected to go south, so to speak, on Sunday, with rain in the forecast. Suggesting, as usual, that qualifying doesn’t always end up having much to do with the eventual result, especially when weather conditions change rapidly.

Let The Big Bikes Roll

The wet premier class race started routinely, other than Jorge Lorenzo taking the hole shot from fifth on the grid and leading the first six laps of the race, as if the track were dry as dust. He was followed in quick succession by Marquez, Divizioso, and Maverick Viñales, with Petrucci on the fly from his start in the middle of the third row. Once Lorenzo left the premises via a Lap 6 high side on his GP17, it was these four riders who would slug it out for the podium. And Viñales, on the factory Yamaha, never appeared to assert himself, riding in fourth place pretty much all day, still in the title chase, unwilling to let the rain put him in DNFville again.

Petrucci went through the leaders like the proverbial hot knife, sliding past Dovizioso on Lap 5 and Marquez on Lap 6. He then put on a clinic of riding in the rain for 21 laps, his rhythm perfect, virtually wobble-free, with #93 and #04 staying close enough to hit him with a rock. Showing nerves of steel and flogging the Ducati joyfully in front of 97,000 fans, 96,000 of whom were pulling for Rossi, Ducati, Petrucci, Dovi, and/or even Andrea Iannone who, in yet another gruesome weekend, retired on Lap 18 with arm pump. With Rossi out injured, the list grew to include Michele Pirro (who finished 5th on a productive wild card).

We watched intently as the last few laps of the race took shape. Petrucci, seeking his first premier class win ever, with nothing to lose and being a notorious mudder, leading the race after Jorge Lorenzo crashed out of the lead on Lap 6. Marquez, appearing to struggle to keep up with Petrucci and fend off Dovizioso, and with plenty to lose in the championship chase, left Petrucci in the lead all day without letting him get away.

During the penultimate lap, Marquez seemed to mentally flip a coin and decided to try to win the race rather than manage it. In tricky conditions, with worn tires, he hit the front in Turn 1, took advantage of a Petrucci wobble in Turn 4, and gassed his Honda RC213V home by 1.1 seconds over the gutted Petrucci, putting in the fastest lap of the race in the last 1:47.07. Throwing caution to the wind, as it were. In stark contract to Dovizioso, willing to settle for third place, Marquez, with the heart of a champion, decided he was unwilling to settle for second. This is one reason he has three premier class titles and Dovi, as skilled and brave as he is, has none.

Weather Throws a Spanner

Cue the music: “Good Times, Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin

Rider         Start Position    Finish Position
Marquez              3                      1
Petrucci               8                       2
Dovizioso            2                       3
Viñales                1                       4
Pirro                   11                      5
Miller                 14                      6
Redding             19                      7
Rins                    20                      8
Folger                16                      9
Smith                 22                     10
PEspargaro       17                     11
Bautista             10                     12
Crutchlow          4                      13
Pedrosa               7                     14
Zarco                    6                    15
Baz                       15                   16
Abraham             12                   17
Lorenzo                5                  DNF
Barbera               13                 DNF
AEspargaro          9                  DNF
Lowes                  23                 DNF
Iannone               21                DNF
Rabat                    18                DNF

For those of you following our tranching exercise, we alluded last time how Scott Redding and Jorge Lorenzo consistently suffer reversals of fortune. Today, as predicted, was a great day for Redding and another dumpster fire for Lorenzo.

The Big Picture – Then There Were Three

Today marked the end of yet another premier class season of chasing the dream for Dani Pedrosa, who was never able to get his Repsol Honda’s tires heated up all day, could manage but two points for his 14th place finish and now trails Valentino Rossi, who no longer contends for the title, his leg and title hopes in pieces.

Round 14 in ancient Aragon looms, the last European round before the Pacific flyaway rounds and subsequent return to Valencia for the finale. With Marquez and Dovizioso now tied at 199 points and Viñales at 183, the chances of the 2017 title being undecided approaching the last Sunday of the season appear pretty decent. This was Viñales’ first race from pole with Yamaha where he failed to podium, which probably means nothing in the wet. But it was wet in Aragon in 2015. I’d like to see him close the gap with #93 and #04 before November.

For some of you, those who have a soft spot in their hearts for rookie Johann Zarco, the lasting image from today’s race will be that of him pushing his Tech 3 M1 across the finish line, utterly exhausted, for the sake of a single championship point, which says a lot about what it takes to excel in this sport. Personally, I prefer the backflips.

Zarco

 

MotoGP Le Mans Results 2017

May 21, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi kicks it away; Viñales leads series 

vinales-on-yamahaedited

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

Practice and Qualifying

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

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

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

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

The Race – A Yamaha Cakewalk.  Almost.

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking the Bikes

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

2017 Yamaha

2016 Yamaha

2017 Honda

Ducati GP17

2017 Suzuki

2017 KTM

Ducati GP15

2016 Honda

2017 Aprilia

Ducati GP16

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

Sidebars

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

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