Posts Tagged ‘motogp’

MotoGP Catalunya Preview

June 11, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

After Mugello, the 2018 Fight is a Fight Again

Virtually lost amidst the frenzied game of musical chairs being played in MotoGP is the fact that, pursuant to his careless crash in Italy ten days ago, Marc Marquez has returned to Earth. Though the title still appears to be his to lose, his margin of error has been trimmed. Another off in the next few rounds will breathe life into his six closest pursuers. Or, he could win the next three rounds without breaking a sweat, forcing us to start thinking about 2019. Dude records way more wins than DNFs. 

Points-wise, the aforementioned pursuers are tight as ticks: 

2        Valentino Rossi                72

3        Maverick Viñales              67

4        Andrea Dovizioso             66

5        Johann Zarco                    64

6        Danilo Petrucci                 63

7        Andrea Iannone                60

These six fast movers are highly motivated to put some real pressure on Marquez. Rossi wants to show the world he still has it (?) at age 39. Dovi was this close last year and can still taste the title. Zarco has the fastest Yamaha on the track and believes he can pull it off, becoming the first satellite rider to win a premier class title EVER. Petrucci, bubbling over with confidence, wants to impress Gigi Dall’Igna even more than he already has. And Iannone wants to stick his thumb in the eye of the suits at Suzuki who lost confidence in him last year. As for Viñales, he simply wants to stay in the mix long enough for Yamaha to give him a bike he can win on.

Recent History at Catalunya

2015, it will be recalled, was The Year of Discontent for Marc Marquez. It was on Lap 3 at Montmelo when, frantically chasing Lorenzo from second place, he hit the deck, his day (and season) done and dusted. Lorenzo, having seized the lead on the first lap, was doing his best to get away, and Marquez had to try to force the issue early. Boom. Lorenzo edged Rossi by almost a second, with Dani Pedrosa arriving some 20 seconds later. At the end of the day, Marquez trailed Rossi by 69 points and Lorenzo by 68.  Marquez switched to the 2014 chassis after this round, found his mojo, and collected six podia over the second half of his lost season.

Iannone and LorenzoThe 2016 tilt featured a struggling but gritty Jorge Lorenzo getting “Iannoned” out of fifth place on Lap 17, leaving Rossi and Marquez at the front, where they slugged it out for the rest of the day. Rossi prevailed after the challenge from Marquez subsided once his pit board flashed “LORENZO KO.”  Dani Pedrosa again finished a respectable third, followed some distance back by Viñales on the Suzuki. Marquez took the series lead from Lorenzo that day and never looked back, cruising to his third premier class title.

2017–After recording no wins between Donington Park 2009 and Sepang 2016, Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso made it two in eight days, delivering scintillating rides at both Mugello and Montmelo. By mid-race, Dovizioso was keeping his powder dry, tucked in behind the two factory Hondas. Marquez and Pedrosa were making polite moves on one another through the middle of the race until Lap 17, when Dovi, having earlier absconded with Marquez’ lunch money, went through on Pedrosa into the lead he would keep for the rest of the day.  Marquez later passed Pedrosa to take second place, as Dani appeared to have shot his tires to pieces early in the race.

Silly Season Singalong

“Well we’re movin’ on uppetrucci.jpg

To the east side

To a de-luxe apartment in the sky.

Movin’ on up

To the east side

We finally got a piece of the pie.”

–Theme song, The Jeffersons, being sung (in three-part harmony) by Danilo Petrucci, Pecco Bagnaia, and Joan Mir

Jorge Lorenzo’s defection from the factory Ducati team to Repsol Honda has given voice to Petrucci, who has been itching for a factory ride seemingly forever. Bagnaia and Mir are being promoted from Moto2 to the majors (Pramac Ducati and Suzuki Ecstar, respectively) and are singing backup to Petrux. Lorenzo’s switch must be viewed as a lateral, along with a joyful Hafiz Syahrin, who has been retained by the Tech 3 team in its forthcoming KTM iteration. Syahrin made it into the premier class the hard way, by being the last man standing when Jonas Folger was pronounced unfit to race this year due to illness.

A number of riders have little reason to sing at this point of the season. Andrea Iannone has been dropped down a notch or three, moving from Suzuki to Aprilia next year. Dani Pedrosa, after 13 years on a factory Honda, could end up anywhere; the rumors of a satellite Yamaha team sponsored by Petronas next year persist, with Pedrosa one of the two riders thereon. Jack Miller, speaking confidently of a factory ride in 2019 only a month ago, will likely stay put with Pramac. He will, however, probably pick up a little Italian profanity courtesy of Bagnaia.

Drunkenly singing the blues, in English, in a dark corner of this article are Scott Redding and Bradley Smith, both of whom appear to be on their way out of the premier class. The jury is still out on Taka Nakagami, Tom Luthi, Karel Abraham, Tito Rabat and Alvaro Bautista, with Nakagami and Rabat most likely to hang around for another year. Then there is Hectic Hector Barbera, whose downhill slide continues. Last year at this time, he was a Tranche 4 rider in the premier class. Last week at this time, he was a Tranche 4 rider in Moto2. Today he is unemployed, courtesy of a DUI in Valencia after Round 6.

Your Weekend Forecast

The weather should not be a factor this weekend, as the extended forecast for greater Barcelona calls for clear skies and warm temps. As for the race, I have narrowed down my pick for the winner to five riders.  Marquez does not have great history here, but he is Marquez, a threat to win every time out, not to mention being a little cheesed off at the Italian fans who cheered wildly when he crashed at Mugello. Lorenzo, Rossi and Dovizioso have recorded wins here in the last three years; Lorenzo can be expected to try to prove that last week’s win wasn’t a fluke. Rossi and Dovi are in the midst of a title chase, giving them all the incentive they need.

My dark horse on Sunday is Dani Pedrosa. He is intimately familiar with Montmelo and has podiumed here the last six years. He has been jilted by his girlfriend of 13 years. He is looking for a ride next year and anxious to demonstrate that he has something left in the tank. And he would love to show Honda they’ve made a mistake—which is very possibly true—letting him go in favor of Lorenzo. The weather does not look to be a negative factor. And the fans, who simply want a Spaniard, any Spaniard, on the top step would get behind him if he finds himself in the lead. Stranger things have happened.

As usual this time of year, Moto3 goes off at zero dark thirty in the Eastern US, with Moto2 and MotoGP following. We will bring you results and analysis around noon.

Simon Crafar and Steve Day

June 4, 2018

© Bruce Allen              June 4, 2018

If you have some real miles on your odometer, this will make more sense.

Simon Crafar2

 

Steve Day

Flounder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Dylan Gray. Not Nick Harris.

I get it that Simon Crafar was kind of a big deal in motorcycle racing some years ago, and is a SME regarding motorcycle racing in general. He is nervous, and doesn’t possess a great reservoir of questions when he’s conducting an interview. Despite his wealth of knowledge, he consistently asks riders these squishy “how does it feel” questions that many are reluctant, unprepared or unable (in a second language) to answer.

On Sunday, Simon conducted possibly the worst interview EVER of Valentino Rossi, a task which is usually a lay-down, as Rossi is usually happy to have a mic stuck in his face. It took place in the midst of a riveting Moto3 race in which Rossi had some pronounced interest in several of the riders up front. Simon gets in his grill, delivers his “I’m here with nine-time world champion…” opener, and asks, “Who do you think will win?” Rossi, confused, thinking he’s still the MotoGP guy, stammers about how Jorge is strong and Iannone… when Simon interrupts, saying “No, the Moto3 race!” Rossi: “No idea.” Simon, equipped this time with a follow-up, asks, “How’s it feel to win pole here at Mugello?” “Rossi: “Is good.”  Simon: “Back to you, guys.”

As I was getting over this mess, it occurred to me that Matt and your boy Steve need to bring Simon up to speed, as it were, on a few of the finer points of MotoGP announcing:

  • They switched from 125s to 250s in Moto3 in 2012. They no longer run 125s.
  • The word is “best,” not “bist.”
  • He needs to focus on more technical questions, which will require that he employ the open probe “when,” as in, “When did you know you could win the race?” or, “When did you feel your front tire starting to melt?”
  • The season is a third over. Time to move on from “How does it feel?”

As for Steve Day, I saw him on camera for the first time and could not shake the image of Flounder, from Animal House, from my head. Here I expected a buff, English kind of jock who happened to have a high voice. Instead, it’s Stephen Furst in his mid-30’s, appears to possibly never have been on a motorcycle, and who gets his panties in a twist at the slightest provocation. OK, it’s fine to try to inject some excitement, but, for the most part, the action is exciting on its own. He needs to speak more calmly, as if he’s been there before, and in a lower register. They appear to be under orders to sound as utterly British as possible–rough treatment in a turn is “naughty.”  Both Matt and Steve are excellent at identifying riders during the heat of battle. But, whatever MotoGP does, it should keep Steve Day off TV. Better to put on Otis Day and the Nights.

Not Dylan Gray. Not Nick Harris.

 

Rumor: Mir to Suzuki in 2019

May 25, 2018

© Bruce Allen   May 25. 2018

Sounds like Honda’s MotoGP program has lost out again.

https://www.crash.net/motogp/contentm/896822/1/gossip-mir-decides-suzuki-motogp

Apparently being Marc Marquez’s garagemate isn’t the most highly sought-after gig in the paddock. First they lose Zarco to KTM, now apparently Mir to Suzuki. Pecco Bagnaia has already signed with Pramac Ducati. Does HRC really want to invest another two years in the loyal but flawed Dani Pedrosa? Hard to imagine.

Joan Mir

Will we read about Mir signing with Suzuki in the next few weeks?  Bummer for HRC.

Jorge Lorenzo is so screwed

May 23, 2018

Lorenzo screwed.JPG

This article captures the situation in the premier class pretty well. Lorenzo will be unable to save his seat. He will take a serious pay cut no matter where he ends up. Suzuki looks the most likely. He could end up on a Yamaha satellite team. He will be a minister without portfolio. Rossi escaped Ducati with most of his skills intact and a place at Yamaha for as long as he wanted it. Lorenzo, presuming another gruesome outing in Mugello next weekend, appears to have few good options available going forward.

http://www.marca.com/en/more-sports/2018/05/20/5b01520d22601df35c8b45e0.html

 

MotoGP Le Mans Preview 2018

May 15, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Rossi and Vinales need to fish or cut bait

The 30th running of the Grand Prix de France at Le Mans—Round 5, for those of you keeping score at home—arrives at a critical time for the factory Yamaha team. Both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales have been struggling with the YZR-M1 this year, searching in vain for feeling in the front and grip in the rear. Le Mans has been très Yamaha-friendly of late, M1s having gone three-for-three since 2015. Sunday would be a really good time for a replay.

Last year at this time, Rossi and Vinales sat 1-2 in the standings, at 62 and 60 points respectively. (Marquez, who had gotten off to a relatively slow start, was right there at 58 points.) This year, it’s Marquez and his formidable Repsol Honda at the head of the class with 70 points, atop Vinales in third (-20) and Rossi in sixth (-30). With super soph Johann Zarco sitting second on the Tech 3 Yamaha, a surprising Andrea Iannone fourth on the factory Suzuki, and hard luck Andrea Dovizioso fifth on the factory Ducati, it’s crowded at the top of the food chain. Not to mention Cal Crutchlow’s favorite rider, Cal Crutchlow, lurking a mere two points behind Rossi.

Marquez’ dominant performance at Jerez pumped some unwanted air into the standings. Heading to Andalucía, the top five riders were separated by a mere eight points. Today it’s 24. With the factory Yamaha team struggling, bitching and moaning, it may be up to Monsieur Zarco to carry the flag for the Hamamatsu brand on Sunday. A win by Marquez here in Yamahaland would send a chill through the entire paddock.

Recent History at Le Mans

Back in 2015, on an idyllic Gallic afternoon, the Movistar Yamaha team delivered a clear

jorge-lorenzo-valentino-rossi-yamaha-motogp-2015-01

Lorenzo and Rossi during better days

message to Marc Marquez: any Catalan plotting a third consecutive world championship in 2015 would need to first dislodge The Boys in Blue. Lorenzo, in a replay of his cakewalk in Jerez the previous round, got away early and was never challenged. Rossi, starting on the third row, had to slice his way through several Andreas on Ducatis to secure his ninth podium in a row and 13th out of 14 dating back to 2014. Dovizioso whipped his GP15 to third place. It was a forgettable Sunday for the Repsol Honda team, as Marquez, wrestling the nasty 2015 Honda chassis, crossed the line fourth, while teammate Pedrosa, just back from radical arm pump surgery, hung on to finish 16th.

 

Jorge Lorenzo, who had announced his departure for Ducati at the end of the season, won the 2016 French Grand Prix by 10 seconds over teammate and rival Valentino Rossi. Maverick Vinales, starting to flex his muscles, did what no Suzuki rider since Loris Capirossi in 2009 had done—put a GSX-RR on the podium, thanks to eight riders crashing out in perfect conditions, three of whom probably would have beaten him. Michelin, the new tire supplier for MotoGP, had a miserable day, as the consensus in the paddock was that nobody was in control of their machines on that track on that rubber.

Zarco was a debutante here last year, leading the race for the first six laps until Vinales stole his lunch money on Lap 7 and Rossi followed suit on Lap 23. [Rossi, looking like his old self, went through on Vinales into the lead on Lap 26, but unaccountably laid it down on the last lap, to the dismay of those who still thought he had another championship in him. Rossi’s brain fade promoted Vinales to the win and Zarco to the second step of the podium. At the end of the day, rather than looking like his old self, Rossi simply looked old.] With Marquez having gone walky on Lap 17, Dani Pedrosa was there to claim third place.

Bits and Pieces

If the Marc VDS team weren’t the sorriest outfit on the grid, more people would be interested in the kerfuffle currently raging between owner Marc van der Straten and team manager Michael Bartholemy. Allegations of financial impropriety, meetings scheduled and cancelled, dueling press releases, etc. News outlets are reporting that interest in the team from Suzuki headquarters has cooled recently, due in part to the ongoing static. And while Honda is reportedly interested in keeping the team in its camp, for whatever reason, Yamaha appears to have the inside track to supply the team beginning in 2019. As an aside, rider Franco Morbidelli began to show signs of life at Jerez, having collected his first premier class top ten finish.

 

Gigi Dall'Igna

Rock–Gigi–Hard Place

Plenty of drama emanating from the Ducati contingent, as the grossly underpaid Andrea Dovizioso is playing hardball on salary negotiations for 2019-2020. He has them over a barrel. Gigi “Unibrow” Dall’Igna, the Grand Gouda for the Italian factory, can’t wait to unload Jorge Lorenzo and therefore must sign Dovizioso. Dovi knows this, and is holding all the cards. Dall’Igna is quoted as saying the issue will be resolved by the Mugello round, making it sound like they will have a deal by then or it’s no deal. Right. Meanwhile, Dovi is busy wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. Dude’s bank account is gonna get laced.

 

Poor Bradley Smith. Confronting the fact that he’s just not very fast, he seems to be trying to talk his way onto the Tech 3 KTM satellite team for next year. Team principal Herve Poncharal put that idea to rest this past week, pointing out that it makes no sense to put a (mediocre, tapped-out) veteran rider in a developmental role on a satellite team. Look for Bradley in Moto2 or World Superbike next year. If he’s not bagging groceries at your friendly local Piggly Wiggly grocery store.

Your Weekend Forecast

The extended weather forecast for the Sarthe river region calls for dry, cool conditions all three days, with the warmest temps of the weekend, on Sunday only reaching the low 70s. We will assert this to be Yamaha weather, as the Hondas like it hot and the Ducatis like it wet. (The Suzuki, KTM and Aprilia riders are not fond of weather period, being averse to any and all conditions. Cool, warm, dry, wet—all present problems. This is patently unfair to the Suzuki team, where Andrea Iannone is resurrecting his career at the same time Alex Rins is demolishing his.)

As for the race, we all know that predicting race results is a fool’s errand. Which is why I’m going to predict not one but two Yamahas on the podium. Rooting, as usual, for the championship to come down to a shootout in Valencia, I would enjoy seeing Zarco get his first win at home, followed by a factory Yamaha (pick one) and Marc Marquez. Dovizioso deserves a good outcome, but I fear Pedrosa will have trouble heating his tires. It would also be fun to watch Lorenzo and Crutchlow fighting it out for sixth place; the post-race interviews would be a conditional verb tense food fight.

Check back on Sunday afternoon for results and analysis. Feel free to chime in on the DISQUS comments section at Motorcycle.com to confirm Allen’s Corollary to Newton’s third law—for every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.

MotoGP Jerez Results 2018

May 6, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Magic Marquez avoids disaster, seizes series lead

Today’s Red Bull Grand Prix de España served as a vivid reminder that in the premier class of MotoGP there is Marc Marquez, and then there are a bunch of other riders. We are clearly living in the heart of The Marquez Era in MotoGP, which appears likely to extend into the future as far as the eye can see. With the best rider in our generation astride the best bike on the grid, in mid-career, an air of inevitability has settled over the 2018 championship.

Practice and Qualifying

Let me get one thing off my chest up front: Dorna goes out of its way to get us geeked up about qualifying as if it makes a particle of difference in the outcome of the race. The announcers were getting all breathless on Saturday afternoon at the prospect of Marquez having to start from all the way back in the middle of the second row. Piffle. Practice and qualifying are great fun to watch and occasionally instructive, but their predictive value is slight.

Briefly, then, free practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning separated the goats from the lambs, with big names like Dovizioso, Viñales and Espargaro (x2) relegated to the prelims. #04 and #25 both made it through to Q2, Viñales by the skin of his teeth over Aleix, before getting ground up by the likes of Cal Crutchlow, who managed to set a new track record while taking pole. The Repsol Hondas had the pace and were loving the building heat. Johann Zarco pulled a late fast lap out of the back of his leathers for his eighth front row start “on the trot.” Even sad Jorge Lorenzo found his way to the top of the Row 2 (and the holeshot on Sunday) as his second consecutive epic fail of a season continued to unfold.

A Defining Moment for 2018

At the start, a five-man lead group materialized, consisting of Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Zarco, Crutchlow and Marquez. Lorenzo, clearly wishing to lead any race whatsoever for at least one lap, was running soft tires front and back, the other contenders in various combinations of hards and mediums. By Lap 4 we found Lorenzo leading Marquez and Pedrosa, with Crutchlow lurking on the LCR Honda, Alex Rins’ Suzuki busy pedaling hard, and Dovizioso staying in touch. Zarco was the leader of a gaggle of miserable Yamahas, who suffered in the dry heat all weekend and are not competitive, as a brand, in 2018.

Marquez dispatched Lorenzo at the Jorge Lorenzo Corner—lol—on Lap 8 after Rins had left the building on Lap 6, joined in the kitty litter by my boy Cal Crutchlow minutes later. Marquez spent most of the next dozen laps not getting away, reminding me of a cat toying with an entire family of mice. During this period the most interesting sight occurred at the turn (11?) where Tom Luthi had crashed out on Lap 12, covering the track in gravel. Marquez, leading the race moments later, suddenly found himself at virtually full lean, 270 hp screaming beneath him, riding on marbles. Most normal riders would have hit the deck at this point; Marquez appeared to shake it off as he would a hangnail.

Jerez 2018 Crash Turn 6 Dry Sack

The big Lap 20 crash involving Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Dovizioso appeared to be no one’s fault, simply a racing incident, albeit a spectacular one. I remember watching Jorge Lorenzo gather some big air at Shanghai in 2008; Dani Pedrosa, whose condition heading to Le Mans in two weeks is unknown at deadline, will remember today’s crash for a long time.

Jorge Lorenzo demonstrated again today his essential selfish nature, happily sitting second, gripping his six (6) points for the season fiercely, blocking teammate Andrea Dovizioso and his series-leading 46 points as Marquez was busy vanishing into the ether. Lorenzo was at the heart of today’s Lap 20 fustercluck, his teammate pushing desperately to get through, causing both riders to run wide at Dry Sack, opening the door for Pedrosa on the inside as the Ducatis veered back onto the racing line without Lorenzo having noticed Dani to his right. Boom. (Up until that point, I found myself watching for the hilarious MAPPING 8 signal from his garage indicating he should yield to Dovi. As we saw last year in Sepang, even if team orders are in place, Lorenzo is generally not one to acknowledge them. How his crew fits both Jorge and his ego into a single set of leathers is a headscratcher.)

With five laps to go, Marquez suddenly had clear sailing, while two of his closest competitors—Crutchlow and Dovizioso—were sitting out of the points and teammate Pedrosa was headed to the medical centre, next door to the medical center. Crashes like this (and the reliability of Cal crashing out unassisted) often cause a number of lower tranche riders to secure promotions they don’t necessarily deserve. Thus we find Andrea Iannone on the podium, Danilo Petrucci earning 13 points, and the increasingly less relevant Valentino Rossi (one win in his last 32 starts) accruing 11 points on a day he should have been wallering in single figures.

The Big Picture

See the season standings below. 2018 is now officially Marc Marquez’ season to lose. With the season less than 20% over, his 12-point lead over Zarco’s satellite Yamaha would easily be 37 were it not for the mess in Argentina. As was the case in Austin, the 2018 chase now appears to be for second place—yes, I am awarding the 2018 title to #93, similar to watching election night results coming in and having CNN call a contest two minutes after the polls close. Thank goodness Crutchlow finds the idea of copping to his own shortcomings distasteful or there wouldn’t be anything to laugh about. Next thing you know he’ll be gloating about Hillary.

Go Tranche Yourself

Tranche 1: Marquez, Zarco, Dovizioso
Tranche 2: Viñales, Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa, Miller
Tranche 3: Iannone, Rins, Rabat, A Espargaro, Petrucci
Tranche 4: P Espargaro, Lorenzo, Nakagami, Morbidelli, Syahrin, Bautista, (Kallio)
Tranche 5: Smith, Abraham, Luthi, Redding, Simeon

Some Random Schvitzing

As some of you are aware, I’ve been having health issues of late that have temporarily lowered my IQ. Not possible, you say. Not enough oxygen getting to my brain, I say. Thus, my usually succinct post-race analysis must yield to the following random rants.

The crash on Lap 20, at the awkwardly named Dry Sack Corner, highlights the subtle irony to be found in Spanish humor. To wit, if one finds one’s motorcycle traveling upside down and backwards at speed, as Dani Pedrosa did today, one will likely be sporting anything but a dry sack. Even one or two such occurrences during a racing season tend to render one’s title chase problematic.

Marquez kept his premier class record at Jerez intact, having never been off the podium in six outings. Andrea Dovizioso maintained his equally pristine string here, having never once appeared on the podium in 11 premier class appearances dating back to 2008.

Is it just me, or did Cal Crutchlow’s brolly girl today bear a surprising resemblance to Cruella de Ville?

If this is going to be any kind of season at all, Johann Zarco needs to post his first premier class win at Le Mans in two weeks. Just sayin’.

Postscript: Earlier this year Jorge (Aspar) Martinez took it upon himself to re-brand his Aspar racing team as Team Angel Nieto in honor of the Spanish grand prix legend who passed away early this year. Prior to the race this weekend, the Circuito de Jerez followed suit, to be known henceforth as the Circuito de Jerez Angel Nieto. In an effort to get in line with current trends in MotoGP I have decided to rename my lunchbox, which shall be referred to from now on as Lonchera Angel Nieto. If you spy me stuffing my face outside the Carmel Public Library on a shaded summer afternoon, rest assured my victuals have arrived respectfully.

 

Simon's Cribsheet

We caught a glance at Simon Crafar’s cheatsheet before today’s race. Christ.

 

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.

 

MotoGP 2018 Losail Results

March 18, 2018

DesmoDovi Punks Marquez for Early Season Lead

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The season opener at Losail went mostly according to expectations, which is to say it was crowded up front. At one point I counted nine bikes in the lead group, a sight normally seen in Moto3. French sophomore Johann Zarco led from pole most of the day, fueling a lot of premature trash talk. Once his tires went up, though, it came down to Dovizioso and Marquez for early bragging rights. Round One goes to the Italian on points. No TKO.

Practice and Qualifying

Of the top ten riders on the combined practice timesheets, the top five included, as most of you know, three Ducs and both Suzukis. The factory Hondas sat 6th and 7th. Crutchlow, Rossi and Zarco also made it straight into Q2, wiping up the rear, as it were. Jack Miller got hot on his GP17 during Q1 and moved through to Q2, followed by Vinales, who also found something late in the day. Both appeared to be capable of making noise in Q2. Overall, Dovizioso led three of the four practice sessions (Zarco the other), topping the charts for the Q2 cabal. KTM had nothing going on, but Aprilia was showing signs of life, Aleix sitting 12th after FP3.

Q2 was seriously better than a lot of races. Fifteen minutes of straight adrenaline, with the last three minutes simply breathtaking. Riders including Dovi, Marquez, Lorenzo and Rins took turns aiming at the 10-year old track record set by white-hot rookie Lorenzo to open the 2008 season, falling short each time. But on the day’s last lap, the remarkable Johann Zarco, who we refuse to call The Flying Frenchman, pedaling his two-year old Yamaha, put down a vapor trail, crushing Lorenzo’s former record by 2½ tenths and substantially raising the price of poker in the Zarco contract sweepstakes for 2019-20. Not to mention administering a facial to factory riders Rossi (8th) and Vinales (12th). “Hey Johann, it’s that Honda guy again on line 2.”

Marquez and Petrucci, as expected, ended Q2 second and third, respectively, both also breaking the previous record. My pick for pole, Dovizioso, held it for quite some time before sagging to the middle of the second row during the final two minutes. Interesting that the first two rows of riders, all of whom appear capable of winning on Sunday, exclude three genuine Aliens—Lorenzo, Rossi and Vinales. As Steven Stills sang eons ago, “There’s something happening here.” Several weeks ago we suggested “track records appear set to fall like dominos.” Even without qualifying tires.

Batting a thousand so far on that one. [And can’t you still hear the separate guitar parts in “For What It’s Worth?” Boom.] Saturday evening, Zarco said his race pace was a concern. Right. I hope everyone got to watch the interview with Marc Marquez in which the clever young Brit interviewer managed to get him to admit, smiling widely, that tire selection for the race is very important and no we are not yet sure which tires we will use tomorrow. Wow. We journalists really get down to it sometimes.

A Race for the Ages

The 2018 Qatar Motorcycle Grand Prix unfolded as if it had been scripted. The hot French sophomore on the two-year old Yamaha—let’s call him Johann Zarco–took the hole shot from pole and led a snappish bunch of veteran riders on a merry chase for 16 laps. Suddenly, his tires turned to cheese, and those veterans began going through, Sherman-through-Georgia style. Both Dovizioso and Marquez passed through at Turn 1 of Lap 17, with Rossi following suit later in the lap. Ultimately, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Maverick Vinales and Dani Pedrosa would push the impudent Gaul to 8th place. In golf they say you drive for show, putt for dough. In MotoGP, you gotta save some tire for late in the race.

It was on Lap 21 that the contenders stepped in for the pretenders. Andrea Dovizioso, who had seized the lead on Lap 17, invited Marquez to a private tête-à-tête for the last three laps, an invitation the defending champion eagerly accepted. With Rossi reduced to lurking in 3rd, hoping for something to go wrong in front of him, the two best riders on Earth squared off for six minutes of unbridled, hair-raising battle, exchanging haymakers. Marquez, unable not to make a move on Dovi at some point, finally took his shot at Turn 16 on the final lap, in a virtual replay of the Red Bull Ring and Motegi duels the two fought last year. Consistent with those contests, Dovi took advantage of his superior corner exit speed to clip Marquez by 2/100ths of a second and take a narrow early lead in the 2018 title chase.

Some Days Chicken, Some Days Feathers

In addition to Dovizioso and Marquez, riders who could anticipate a tasty chicken dinner this evening include Rossi, who did manage to climb from 8th to 3rd, and Franco Morbidelli, who edged Hafizh Sayahrin for the top rookie participation trophy. Sayahrin, for his part, became the first Malaysian rider ever to start a MotoGP race and score points therein, a record he can never lose. Kudos to the luckiest rider on the grid. Jack Miller and Tito Rabat probably feel pretty good this evening, crossing the line in 10th and 11th places, respectively.

Riders going hungry tonight include Alex Rins, Jorge Lorenzo and Pol Espargaro, all of whom crashed out, Rins while traveling in 6th position. Zarco learned a lesson today. Maverick Vinales learned his lesson yesterday while laying an egg in Q2, starting from 12th place. He rode a hellified second half today, only to end up 6th. Not a disaster, but an opportunity lost. Scott Redding, who has apparently already lost his seat for next year to Danilo Petrucci, can say only that he managed to beat Xavier Simeon, a feat comparable to winning the Taller than Mickey Rooney contest.

Over in the Junior Leagues

Spaniard Jorge Martin stiff-armed countryman Aron Canet for the win in the Moto3 race, with the new guy at Leopard Racing, Lorenzo Dalla Porta, glomming onto the third podium spot milliseconds ahead of about six other guys. Enea Bastianini, taking over the #1 seat at Leopard with the graduation of 2017 champion Joan Mir to Moto2, crashed out of a podium spot, giving an ominous start to his 2018 campaign.

Pecco Bagnaia, late of the SKY Racing Team VR46, held on to the Moto2 win today, narrowly evading the clutches of Lorenzo Baldassarri, in a thrilling contest that also came down to the last turn. Little Brother Alex Marquez, who had been fast all weekend, started from pole and was cruising along in 3rd position, well within reach of the Marquez Moto2 Brakes on Fireleaders, when his rear brakes pinched the disc and, inexplicably, held on, at which point the disc quickly cooked, changed color from gray to red to white, back to gray when they finally came unstuck, killing his chances for the win but allowing him a podium nonetheless.

Unsubstantiated Rumors

Bagnaia, according to news reports, has already signed a contract to join Jack Miller with Alma Pramac Ducati next season. The dominoes look set to fall such that Petrucci heads over to Gresini Aprilia, and Redding for points west. Apparently Honda has the early inside track to sign Zarco to the factory team to ride alongside Marquez starting next year, with Pedrosa being shown the door, as feared. Earliest silly season I can ever remember. Rossi signed for two more years last week, in case you’ve been hanging out under a rock.

Rider Rankings After Round One

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi, Petrucci, Crutchlow
Tranche 2: Vinales, Zarco, Rins, Pedrosa, Miller
Tranche 3: Lorenzo, Iannone, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Morbidelli
Tranche 4: P Espargaro, Abraham, Bautista, Rabat
Tranche 5: Simeon, Redding, Nakagami, Smith, Luthi

Before you take to DISQUS to shred my rankings, remember Allen’s Corollary to Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.

Argentina in two weeks. Be there. Aloha.

 

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!