Posts Tagged ‘Losail Circuit’

MotoGP 2018 Season Preview

March 7, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com
Fierce Competition Awaits Marc Marquez in 2018

Part One
Overview

Here we go again. We, the fans, are fully amped on the glidepath to the start of another season of breathtaking, toe-curling two-wheeled racing. For a while after Valencia 2017 it was collect data, data and more data. In 2018, hot laps and consistent simulations became the targets. There was surprising Sepang, then that new Thai place Carmelo found one night, then the final official test at Qatar in early March, all pointed toward Round 1 under the lights, in the desert, as usual, at Losail on March 18. Optimism and jubilation reign; everyone, at this point, is undefeated.

Marquez Valencia 2017bIf you’re not familiar with MotoGP, most of what follows will not make much sense. If, however, you ARE familiar with MotoGP, most of what follows will not make ANY sense. But keep with it; it will grow on you, unless you’re hung up on things like, say, facts and accuracy. By the end of the season you’ll be all over DISQUS with the usual rabble, giving me a hard time about this and that, Valentino Rossi or my boy Cal Crutchlow.

No mega-huge contracts for 2019-2020 for factory Ducati riders, just the normal run-of-the-mill wheelbarrows of cash. The GP-18, according to management, Casey Stoner and Michele Pirro, is significantly improved over last year, with nothing having been made worse in the process. Therefore, no need going forward to, ahem, overpay for touchy, egocentric triple world champions.

Screenshot (59)

Gigi Dall’Igna, the Grand Gouda of Ducati’s MotoGP effort, it is said, has a few more tricks up his sleeve for 2018. As for 2019, he was recently overheard boasting that the GP19 will be so strong that he could win the title with Motorcycle.com’s own elderly Californian John Burns as his #1 rider.

The racing calendar extends from mid-March to mid-November, a full eight months. This, obviously, is too long. The momentum and drama of the title chase is diluted by the time spent during the summer standing around waiting for the next race. 2018 features 19 rounds, and it looks pretty clear 20 rounds will become the norm starting in 2019 when Finland goes on the calendar. The Dorna folks need to find a way to fit 20 rounds into seven months.

Honda, according to people who actually know stuff, appears to be the favorite for the constructor’s trophy heading into the season. If Sepang weren’t an outlier as regards layout, temps, rain and so forth, one could argue that Ducati should be the favorite. Yamaha has been dealing with gremlins, and the three junior manufacturers are not yet a threat, although Suzuki may be ready to move up. Ducati, with eight bikes on track, and Honda with six will be the main contestants unless The Boys in Blue, Viñales and Rossi, are fighting one and two for the title. Which, in early March, seems unlikely. So does the prospect of having only two Yamahas on track in 2019.

While the Sepang test was a win for Ducati, the Buriram test in late February was a win for Honda. Crutchlow, Marquez and Pedrosa recorded the top times on the three days, Pedrosa looking especially strong. Meanwhile, the Yamaha and factory Ducati contingents faltered. Jorge Lorenzo followed up his sizzling performance in Malaysia with a complete dud in Thailand, finishing the combined timesheets in a dismal 16th place, dazed and confused. As in comparing Chang International Circuit to Red Bull Ring, where Ducatis dominate, there being few reasons to have to turn the Desmosedici GP18 at either venue.

[On a personal note, it was good to have Ducati test pilot Casey Stoner back in January bitching about something. Seems he agrees with most of the planet that Sepang is a crappy place for winter testing. Or testing in any season, for that matter. But he has that gift for saying it in a way that just runs all over me.]

Interlopers in Thailand included last year’s rookie of the year, Johann Zarco, on the Tech 3 Yamaha, circa 2016, leaving southeast Asia with a silver medal. He was joined in the top six by two suddenly hot properties, Alex Rins on the Ecstar Suzuki and Jack Miller on the Alma Pramac Ducati GP17. Both looked good in Malaysia, both looked very good in Buriram. The pair slipped slightly in Qatar—ain’t nobody care about that. Over the last ten years, the rider winning the opener at Losail has won the title only three times.

Yamaha found itself behind the eight ball after two testing weekends, it appearing that the 2018 machine is worse than the 2017, which was worse than the 2016. The worst part, of course, is that at both Sepang and Buriram the effective settings they employed on Day Two refused to work on Day Three. This is disconcerting. Viñales finished the combined Buriram sheets eighth, Rossi 12th. But at the Qatar test, the Yamahas got things turned around, with super soph Zarco leading the way on the combined sheets for the Tech3 team, trailed by Rossi, Dovi, Crutchlow and Viñales.

Why 2018 Could Be Spectacular

The organizers of MotoGP must be prancing about re the potential competitiveness of the upcoming season. By my count, there are perhaps ten riders capable of winning on any given Sunday. These would include Marquez and Pedrosa, Rossi and Viñales, Dovizioso and Lorenzo, Crutchlow, Zarco, Miller and Rins. Maybe Petrucci, too. Of these ten or so, at least four—Rossi, Viñales, Dovizioso and Pedrosa—are capable of challenging Marc Marquez for the 2018 title. As is true in any year, some things have to go well for your guy and some things have to go badly for the other guys. In the paddock there is no more grousing about the control ECU or Michelins; lap records appear set to fall like dominoes.

2006 stands as the year the MotoGP title winner scored the fewest points in the 21st century, Nicky Hayden with 252 points over 16 rounds. Pro-rate that to 19 rounds and that number grows to 299. Marc Marquez, in winning the last two world championships, compiled 298 points in each 18-round season. Pro-rate that up to 315. Meaning he could have been expected to add 17 points in an additional round.

Here’s the point. This year figures to be unusually clogged among the top ten riders. There will therefore be more competition for the big scores, the 25, 20 and 16-point days that come with appearing on the podium. The prediction here is that, despite having added an additional race, the 2018 winner will end up south of 300 points when the curtain falls.

The 2019 silly season has already started, with Viñales and Marquez standing pat, Rossi preparing to sign another two-year Yamaha contract, and Tech 3 ready to announce a three-year affiliation with KTM which will provide them with factory spec bikes, indistinguishable from those of the factory team. This news may be enough to entice Zarco to stay with Tech 3 for the next few years; he is, without question, the hottest non-factory property in the driver corral.

Formula 1 is doing all it can to drive fans to MotoGP. Rumors that Ferrari may drop out dominate the conversation, right below the outrage engendered by Ecclestone & Co. have eliminated “track girls” from race weekends. One might as well watch the races on television.

MotoGP 2018 is going to be great fun. Don’t miss Part Two of our season preview next week, in which we defame examine each of the twelve teams.

 

2013 MotoGP Qatar Preview

April 5, 2013

An article similar to this appears at Motorcycle.com, with some great images.  Here is the raw version.

Pedrosa, Marquez feeling it as the season begins 

When last we left our brave young men, they were engaged in a damp all-day Valenciana crashfest that saw eight riders exit the racing surface prematurely and allowed Yamaha factory test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga the feel good moment of the season with his easy second-place finish.  Starting the season under the lights of Doha, there appear to be four Aliens in 2013, as Casey Stoner has retired, for now, while rookie Marc Marquez joins returning alum Valentino Rossi in the premier class fast lane.  They, along with 2012 runner-up Dani Pedrosa, will set off under the lights on Sunday night in the hope of taking down two time champion Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo. 

Judging from the changes that have occurred in the field since last November, as well as the results of the off-season testing runs, it appears that the 24 bike premier class breaks fairly cleanly into several distinct gaggles:

The Aliens—Honda and Yamaha Factory studs Pedrosa, Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi.  These four guys should account for 95% of the podium spots in 2013.  Rossi has something to prove after two years lollygagging on the Ducati.  Has he lost a step?  Probably.  Is he still good enough to compete for a podium every week on the factory Yamaha?  You betcha.  Marquez appears to be the fastest thing since Lorenzo in 2008.  We’ll look at how these aliens started their careers in a moment, in order to gauge expectations for young Marquez.

The Lurkers—Cal Crutchlown on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda and Alvaro Bautista on the GO & FUN Gresini Honda.  If one or two of the Aliens falter, one of these guys could snag a podium this season.  Crutchlow’s reluctant decision to stay on the satellite Yamaha will look much better when he finishes in the Top 6 and Dovizioso has to work to make the Top 10.  Bradl will probably have to wait for Pedrosa to retire or move on before he gets his Repsol factory ride.  And Bautista keeps on being the best rider available for Fausto Gresini, although the two don’t seem to get along all that well.

Good, but not Very Good—Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducatis and rookie Bradley Smith on the satellite Yamaha.  These three will have to work like crazy or pray for rain to see many Top 6 finishes.  Hayden appears to be in his last contract with Ducati, while Dovizioso has rented, if not sold, his soul for two years of all-Italian inconsequentiality.  Smith was, and remains, a rather curious choice for promotion from Moto2.  Reasonable to assume the team knows more about him than do I.

Pramacs and Aspars—The teams of rookie Andrea Iannone and veteran Ben Spies on the “junior” Ducati Desmosedicis, and top CRT teammates Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet on the Aprilia-powered ART frankenbikes.  Ducati says they expect Spies and Iannone to be competitive this year.  Hope their happy competing with the top CRT guys, and not the factory entries.  It seems to me that the last few seasons, the only competition for the Ducati bikes was other Ducatis.  Just sayin’.

Group Five—Not sure what else to call Avintia Blusens teammates Hectic Hector Barbera and Hiro Aoyama on their Kawasaki-powered FTR machines.  Danillo Petrucci, the second-year senior of the two IodaRacing entries, joins Karel Abraham, working his way downhill on the new Cardion CRT entry.  These four will just have to entertain each other most weeks, as they will seriously lag Pramac-Aspar and will generally lead this last bunch.

This Last Bunch—must have located sponsors needing huge tax losses, as there is not much here.  Yonny Hernandez and Michael Laverty on the Paul Byrd Motorsports combo.    Forward Racing teammates Colin Edwards and rookie Claudio Corti, moving up from Moto2.  Finally, you have Lukas Pesek, the junior IodaRacing entry, and Bryan Staring, the junior Gresini (CRT) entry whose hopes are as faint as the dried wings of a dragonfly.  Of these six riders, I expect four to still be turning laps when Valencia rolls around.

Alien Debut Seasons

ROOKIE STATS ARTICLE 1

This chart says it all.  I’ve taken the liberty of predicting Marc Marquez’s statistics for the season.  He’ll need a year or two to learn how to stay aboard the RC213V.  Once he does, he’ll be a consistent winner for as long as he wants.  Someone needs to remind me in November to compare these numbers to his actual.    But, for the record, let me just state here and now that Marquez, no matter how brilliant his rookie season may turn out to be, will not finish at Laguna Seca.

So, the expectation here is that excitable boy Marquez will easily win Rookie of the Year, will set a few rookie records, and will crash often enough to stay out of serious contention for the title.  Pedrosa looks as if this may be his year, but Lorenzo already has two titles and Rossi seven, and they will have plenty to say about who takes it home in 2013.

Late News

As we approach deadline, one item passed across the wire that inspire hope in our hearts.  The first is that Suzuki is apparently going to try to join the 2014 grid through a partnership with Aspar, with Randy de Puniet rumored to be under contract to test for Suzuki several times this season.  Aspar could easily mimic Fausto Gresini, with an “A” prototype bike under de Puniet and a “B” CRT entry.  One article I read described the new Suzuki as mad fast.  That’s good news. 

Round One:  The Losail Circuit, Doha, Qatar 

Once upon a time, Losail was spoken of as being “Ducati-friendly.”  Stoner won here in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and crashed out of the lead in 2010.  He returned to win again in 2011, but on the Repsol Honda.  Sadly, those were the days.  Rossi won on the Yamaha back in 2010, and Lorenzo captured the flag in 2012.  At this point, it’s safe to say only that one of the Aliens will win on Sunday.

Losail is long and wide and hot and gritty and dark, a layout that has favored the Yamaha in the recent past.  So far this year, it seems that every circuit on the calendar may be Honda-friendly, with a smaller number favoring the Yamaha.  2013, it appears, is Dani Pedrosa’s last best chance to capture a title.  Perhaps the Repsol team will haze the rookie, make him lie back and tangle with the Yamahas.  Doubtful.  But I expect Marquez to avoid contact with Pedrosa and invite it with Lorenzo and Rossi, which should make for exciting racing and some epic images of Marquez sailing over his handlebarsSee Lorenzo in China in 2008.

Lorenzo airborn on Saturday, finishes 2nd on Sunday!

Chineese GP 2008–Lorenzo airborne on Saturday, finishes 2nd on Sunday!

We’ll have race results for you late Sunday or early Monday.