Posts Tagged ‘mugello’

MotoGP Mugello Results 2017

June 4, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso Leads Ducati Charge; Rossi Fades 

Sunday at magnificent Mugello was that rarest of days, when one gets to hear the Italian national anthem played three separate times.  Italians placed 1-2 in a mind-bending Moto3 tilt.  Italian heartthrob Franco Morbidelli didn’t win in Moto2 today, but beloved countryman Mattia Pasini did.  In the main event, homeboys on Ducatis took the top and third steps on the podium.  

National idol Valentino Rossi, trying to fight through injury on his Yamaha, kept it interesting, but was beaten to the podium by teammate Maverick Vinales and the Ducati GP17s ridden by Dovi and Danilo Petrucci, looking hungry and lean himself.

A good day to be Italian, i.e., any day ending in the letter Y.  If only Vale could have…you know… 

Ducati placed five bikes in the top nine today, buttressing the argument that speed is of the essence here, and the Ducati Desmosedici is built for nothing if not speed.  Crutchlow had been quoted early in the weekend saying the race was Dovizioso’s for the taking.  Personally, it is my favorite circuit on the calendar, none of this stop-and-go drag racing, holds 100,000 unapologetic, raving, nationalistic fans, and annually features the #1 sports figure in the whole country, Valentino Rossi.  It is impolitic to observe that Rossi hasn’t won at Mugello since 2008.

Practice and Qualifying

Friday’s practices in ideal conditions produced some strange-looking timesheets. FP1 was Ducati Day at Mugello, with red bikes led by Andrea Dovizioso occupying five of the first seven spots, punctuated by the factory Yamahas.  FP2 was held Through the Looking Glass, with Aliens (or recovering Aliens) at 11th (Jorge Lorenzo), 12th (the injured Rossi), 13th (Vinales) and 14th (Marquez), Cal Crutchlow sitting astride the lot.  On Saturday, FP3 ended with Rossi, looking good, in P1 followed by Marquez and Lorenzo.  Fine.  But Alvaro Bautista in 4th? And Tito “One Fast Lap” Rabat, a Tranche Five stalwart, sitting 6th?  The Usual Suspects, the factory Yamahas, Hondas and Ducatis, made it into Q2 joined by Rabat on the Marc VDS Honda, Aleix Espargaro on the factory Aprilia, and the satellite Ducati delegation of Bautista and Pirro.

Q1 saw a very casual Johann Zarco, who waited until the session was more than half over, stroll out on the track and easily pass through to Q2 along with a slightly more frenetic Danilo Petrucci, who was making hay while the sun shines for once.  Q2 was the usual last-minute cluster, ending with the factory Yamahas up front (Vinales on pole) joined on the first row by a dangerous looking Andrea Dovizioso, with the second row consisting of Pirro followed by the two Repsol Hondas, Pedrosa in 5th.  Three Italians in the front four; the locals be habbin’ dat.

Lorenzo could manage only P7, while Zarco, perhaps a little too relaxed, started the race Sunday 11th, not what he had in mind when he left France.  Tech 3 Yamaha teammate and fellow rookie sensation Jonas Folger crashed out of Q1 and started the race 15th.  Crutchlow, bad karma having tagged him, missed out moving on to Q2 by 8/100ths, started in the 13 hole today, deep in the weeds.  He would get collected by Dani Pedrosa late in the day and was seen shoving the diminutive Spaniard while Pedrosa was trying to apologize.  As if Cal hadn’t been running 11th at the time, in hot pursuit of five points.

What About the Race?

Exiting Turn 1 of Lap 1, it was Rossi and Vinales, with Lorenzo (!), Dovizioso and Marquez chasing.  The high point of Jorge Lorenzo’s day was Lap 2, as he briefly took the lead before being passed, excruciatingly, one at a time, by at least seven other riders, finishing 8th with few visible excuses.  The top six coalesced, by Lap 7, as Vinales, Dovizioso, Rossi, Petrucci on the Octo Pramac Ducati GP 17, a struggling Marc Marquez and a gripless Lorenzo.  Marquez spent much of the last half of the race jousting with Alvaro Bautista and his GP 16, and was unable to close the deal, finishing sixth, staying in the 2017 game but not helping himself.

Dovizioso went through on Vinales on Lap 14 for keeps, but was unable to get away.  Vinales and Petrucci gave valiant chase, but didn’t have it, not even at Slipstream City, the front straight at Mugello that is a racing wonder.  (In the Moto3 race you could be leading crossing the line and enter Turn 1 in eighth place.)  Rossi, the crowd-generated clouds of yellow smoke serving as incense in the cathedral of Italian racing, was unable to compete at the end, one assumes, due to injury.  The Italian press will call him a hero for simply showing up.  Just sayin’.

Dani Pedrosa on the #2 Repsol Honda lost his grits late on Lap 23, performed an awesome low slider, and took the pins right out from under Crutchlow.  In the process, Dani took himself out of second place, replaced there by Dovizioso and his shiny new 25 points.  The rest of the top nine, in addition to the Ducs, consisted of three Yamahas—Johann Zarco making something of a late charge after a poor start from 11th—and Marquez’s lonely Honda.  The second Honda to cross the line?  Tito Rabat on the Marc VDS wreck.

The MotoGP tranches took a beating today. We will look closely at them this coming week, as Catalunya is the second of back-to-back weekends.

The Big Picture

Vinales finished second and extended his championship points lead to 26 over Dovizioso.  Rossi sits at 75, Marquez and Pedrosa tied for fourth with 68 points, and Zarco sixth with 64.  Lorenzo, Petrucci, Jonas Folger and Crutchlow complete the top ten.  So, a third of the way through the season, young Maverick leads the entire Sioux nation by more than a full race’s margin.

Zarco and the remaining Aliens are fighting for second place, hoping #25 would be kind enough to crash out in Catalunya next week.  Until he does crash—and, statistically, he will—the world is his oyster.  The Repsol Honda team is in relative disarray.  The Ducs are only competitive at places like here, Brno, Austria, Phillip Island and Sepang if it don’t rain.  Suzuki is not a good fit for Andrea Iannone.  The Aprilias and KTMs will probably do better at the tighter, slower tracks yet to come.

Maverick Vinales is calmly, methodically working toward his first MotoGP championship.

Quick Notes

The continuing tributes to Nicky Hayden in all three classes and the circuit itself fail to make it easier to accept that he is really gone.  Another serious blow to American bike racing.  So many kids have grown up wanting to be like Nicky Hayden.  Not so many, I expect, are coming along wanting to be like Ben Spies.

Regarding Michele Pirro’s wildcard on the Ducati GP17, reporting elsewhere refers to his becoming the third full factory GP17 on the grid, which, in turn, suggests Petrucci may not be on a full factory 17.  Which could help explain his relative lack of success until today, as I accused him of underachieving last week.  My acknowledged non-golden touch at work.

Herve Poncharal has already re-signed his two rookie wonderkids, Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, to contracts for 2018.  The world expects Zarco to get scooped up by a factory team for the two years following.  Jury is still out on Folger, whom Poncharal describes as “careful,” citing the amount of data he produces.  That’s what known around here as a backhanded compliment.

Back at y’all on Wednesday.

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MotoGP Mugello Preview 2017

May 30, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

High stakes in Tuscany for Round 6 

Last time out in France, the racing gods smiled upon Maverick Vinales and Dani Pedrosa while flipping off Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi. The jam-packed top four took a beating, with Vinales now enjoying a 17-point lead over series #2 Pedrosa.  Rossi is hurt.  The Hondas are a pain to ride.  There’s lots on the line heading to Mugello and Round 6. 

[Before we start, I wanted to acknowledge, having met him several times, how much I respected Nicky Hayden as a person. His family must be shattered. Greatly respected in the paddock, I probably sold his racing skills short for years.  He touched the lives of countless people and will be missed by many more.  Kevin Duke’s tribute was just right.]

 “Nestled in the hills of Tuscany near the Italian jewel of Florence, the natural beauty of the Autodromo del Mugello is a stunning spectacle on its own. Packed to the rafters with fans when MotoGP™ – and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) – come to town, the circuit and event is one of the true wonders of the Championship. More than a race weekend, Mugello is almost a festival to celebrate of speed, competition and motorcycling.”  MotoGP press release 5/29/2017

Bollocks.  Mugello is a heavyweight brawl, staged in front of thousands of passionate, mostly Italian, fans of one rider/bike or other, in various stages of inebriation, celebrating speed, nationalism, camaraderie, and the unbridled joy that comes with winning what is, for them, the Super Bowl.  People thumping their chests, proclaiming, “The EU is great.  Whatever.  WE’RE ITALIAN!!!” 

The Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley is usually one of the most dramatic events of the MotoGP year. Home to Rossi and Ducati, Mugello is a MotoGP shrine; this is a week in which everyone’s Italian.  Unfortunately, it has arrived at a moment when Ducati Corse is having a rough time—five mechanical retirements at Jerez–and local hero Rossi has hurt himself in a training accident after crashing out of 20 certain points in Spain.

With three accomplished Aliens chasing him–something like a combined 175 years of racing experience–Vinales must take care of the knitting this weekend.  Memo to #25:  Riders coming to Mugello leading by 17 have left leading by 42.  Or trailing by eight.  This is one of the pivot points of the season; rookie mistakes are not tolerated.  Races like this are the reason Yamaha is giving you wheelbarrows full of euros.  Places like Mugello are where you earn money and reputation.  Keep your head down.

Recent History at Mugello

In 2014, Jorge Lorenzo, then Yamaha icon, despite having led for 21 laps, was unable to fend off Marquez at the flag, getting pimped by 12/100ths, with Rossi third, at least finishing the race, if not winning it.  The win put Marquez six-for-six in 2014 while Team Yamaha, doing everything possible under massive pressure, put both riders on the podium but was unable to take the win at Rossi’s home crib.  Marquez left Italy with a 53-point margin over Rossi, the season reduced to a race for second.

2015 was another Lorenzo-on-rails outing, a carbon copy of what he had delivered in France two weeks earlier.  Exciting for Jorge, numbing for the fans.  Polesitter Andrea Iannone, aboard the rapidly-improving Ducati GP15, completed his career-best premier class outing in second place despite a long list of injuries.  Rossi was able to dismiss a healing Dani Pedrosa to claim the final spot on the podium.  Marquez crashed out mid-race during his season of discontent.  The locals went home happy with two paisans and a Ducati on the podium.

Last year featured the infamous blown engines for Lorenzo and Rossi, the second of which I judged to be the most important moment of the 2016 season.  After chasing teammate Lorenzo madly with full fuel tanks, Rossi pulled off, white smoke pouring out of his M1 like the Sistine Chapel upon election of a new Pope.  Marc Marquez picked up the baton and chased Lorenzo to the finish, but at the end it was Lorenzo by 1/100th over Marquez, with Andrea Iannone on the Ducati GP16 third.  Arguably one of Lorenzo’s best rides ever, one he is unlikely to repeat this year on the Ducati.

Tranche Time

After Round 3:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi

Tranche 2:  Pedrosa, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Zarco, Miller,

Tranche 3:  Bautista, Iannone, Petrucci, Baz, Redding, Folger

Tranche 4:  A Espargaro, P Espargaro, Barbera, Lorenzo, (Rins)

Tranche 5:  Smith, Lowes, Rabat, Abraham

After Round 5:

Tranche 1:  Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa↑

Tranche 2:  Zarco, Crutchlow, Lorenzo↑↑, Folger↑, Dovizioso

Tranche 3:  Petrucci, Miller↓, Redding, Baz, A Espargaro↑, Iannone

Tranche 4:  P Espargaro, Barbera, Bautista, Abraham↑, Smith↑

Tranche 5:  Lowes, Rabat, (Rins)

Generally, when folks argue about the relative merits of one team or one rider versus another, the argument ends with one of them bellowing, “SCOREBOARD, baby!”  In MotoGP, the bikes, anecdotally regarded as 20% of the package, allow the arbitrary and careless ranking of riders you see above without regard to the standings.  It may also reflect current trends different from those extant in Qatar or after Round 3.  Paging Jorge Lorenzo.  One last observation:  Danilo Petrucci is underperforming on the Ducati GP17.  He needs some serious rain.

Rossi’s Injury

Our crack research team has contacted Vale’s doctor and convinced him that Italy has no HIPPA regs to violate, in order to further convince him to provide us, complete strangers, with exclusive information on the rider’s current sitch.  As it turns out, his condition has been upgraded to “sore as hell.”  He has a list of internal injuries in which the word “kidneys” was included, which is never good.  But he is currently in the hot tub with a bevy team of qualified young nurses receiving intensive massage and should be somewhat recovered, if completely drained, as it were, come Friday.  MotoGP riders have great health insurance.  And high pain tolerance. Strong cores, too.

Look, they wouldn’t have released him from the hospital if he was bleeding internally.  The shame of it is that it comes at this time, when he desperately wants and needs to do well in front of his homeys.  The priests at his old country parish in Tivullia are praying for him.  This may turn out to be his last best chance to insert himself back into title contention this year.  He needs to cinch it up.

Aspar, Danny Kent in the News

Aspar has re-upped with Ducati for 2018, suggesting there will be eight Desmosedici’s on the grid again next season.  With Dorna’s stated intent of having four bikes for each manufacturer, and Suzuki probably ready to field a satellite team, this is a surprising development.  There is also talk that Audi is interested in selling the Ducati business. The Aspar team is typically short of cash; perhaps the three newer OEMs were reluctant to sign up with a financially shaky operation like Martinez’s.  The 2018 deal could be adversely affected by a sale at the corporate level as well.

2015 Moto3™ World Champion Danny Kent will be back on the Moto2™ grid at Mugello as he replaces injured Iker Lecuona at Garage Plus Interwetten while the Spaniard recovers from a broken collarbone.  This after a decent guest appearance in France in Moto3.  This after he walked out of his contract with Kiefer Racing in Moto2 earlier in the year.  And this after titling in Moto3 in 2016.  Guy’s getting passed around the MotoGP mosh pit.  One suspects he may have to serve a year’s perdition in Moto3 before finding a new full time ride in Moto2 for the following season.  Must still have plenty of sponsor money.  Memo to Danny:  Fix, or swallow, your problems–don’t walk away from them.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long-term weekend weather forecast is for sunny and hot, conditions once favorable to the Hondas.  Since it’s hard to predict tomorrow’s weather, we’ll ignore Sunday’s for now, but rain is always possible.  As for results, it’s hard for me not to see both factory Yamahas and Marc Marquez on the podium.  Or one from the factory Ducati team if the weather holds.  Dani Pedrosa.  Cal Crutchlow. Jack Miller in the rain.  The mind reels.

Before some readers get wound up, let me acknowledge the likelihood that the Moto2 and Moto3 races will be breathtaking thrillers.  I’ll do what I can. The MotoGP race goes off early Sunday morning in the U.S.  We will, as always, have results and analysis here as soon as possible.

MotoGP 2016 Mugello Results

May 22, 2016

©  Bruce Allen

Lorenzo wins in Italy; Rossi blown away

For those of you whose loyalties lie elsewhere, let’s be clear:  Jorge Lorenzo deserved to win the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM today.  After a poor qualifying session on Saturday, he slingshotted his way into the lead in Turn 1 of Lap 1, withstood heated challenges from teammate Valentino Rossi and rival Marc Marquez, and crossed the finish line a blink of an eye in front of Marquez.  But heading into the second third of the 2016 season, storm clouds are building on his horizon.

Drama on Saturday

Ducati pilot Andrea Iannone, who had been a blur in practice all weekend, laid down his fastest lap midway through Q2 and goofed off thereafter, believing he had claimed pole.  He failed to account for #46 and his almost infallible sense of the moment.  Rossi scorched Mugello to secure the pole on his last flying lap, sending the crowd into paroxysms of joy.  Minutes later, teammate-in-waiting Maverick Vinales pushed his Suzuki to the very limit, crossing the line a mere 9/100ths of a second behind Rossi, dropping Iannone to third and Marquez to fourth, with an unhappy Jorge Lorenzo relegated to the five hole.  Aleix Espargaro managed sixth, producing a rock-hard first two rows featuring both Suzukis, two Yamahas, a single Honda and, somewhat surprisingly, Iannone’s lone Ducati.

The drama/collusion between Rossi and Vinales offers a useful glimpse into the future, as Vinales flirted with the all-time track record on a relatively inferior machine.  Remaining deferential to his soon-to-be teammate, his performance on Saturday served notice that Vale should dismiss any presumption of occupying the #1 seat on the team next year.  Maverick Vinales is, arguably, The Next Great MotoGP Rider.

Yamaha Blows Up on Sunday

I’m trying and failing to remember if I’ve ever seen a Yamaha four-stroke throw a rod in MotoGP.  Yet Jorge Lorenzo lost one in the warm-up practice on Sunday morning at the end of the front straight.  No harm done, other than putting a dent in his limited engine allocation for the year.  But when Valentino Rossi lost his engine on Lap 9 while in hot pursuit of Lorenzo, that was a different story.  What had been shaping up as a classic all day intra-team battle with title implications devolved instantly into Rossi’s second DNF of the season and a 37 points deficit to Lorenzo for the year.  Both incidents appeared to involve engine braking, perhaps pointing out a flaw in the seamless transmission Yamaha worked so hard to develop over the past few years.  Team press releases later this week will provide some clarity.

Fans Left Breathless at the Finish

The start of today’s race took the qualifying results from Saturday and dumped them into a VitaMix superblender.  Compare the starting grid with the standings after Lap 1:

Mugello Lap One

Rossi having left the building, Lorenzo was able to take a momentary breather until Marquez and his RC213V showed up on his rear tire.  Marquez remained there, apparently lining Lorenzo up, for 13 laps, with Lorenzo, the unmovable object, refusing to budge.  Twice Marquez tried to pass at the end of the front straight, both times running wide, allowing Lorenzo to retake the lead. The last lap was one for the ages, the riders trading paint and positions half a dozen times, with Marquez exiting the last turn with a 10 meter lead and minus his left elbow slider.  But Honda’s Achilles heel in 2016, crappy acceleration exiting the turns, once again bit Marquez, as Lorenzo slipped in behind him, pulled around 50 meters from the line, and won by a 100th of a second.

The record will show Lorenzo having led all 23 laps, apparently enjoying another of his patented cakewalks.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  He spent the first eight laps fighting off relentless pressure from Rossi; it was easy to envision the mutual disrespect, in conjunction with the primary MotoGP edict to beat your teammate, leading to disaster, with both riders in the gravel.  Suddenly, in contrast to the yellow smoke that had filled the air all day, there was an enormous cloud of white smoke billowing from Rossi’s pipes.  Some of the 99,000+ fans might have thought a new pope had been elected; the reality that their idol’s day was over sent a number of them heading for the exits, any reason for hanging around having gone up, as it were, in smoke.

Iannone won his second-half-of-the-race battle with Dani Pedrosa to claim the final spot on the podium, which appeared to belong to Dovizioso until he made an uncharacteristic mistake on Lap 19, running hot and way wide, allowing both Iannone and Pedrosa through.  Having started 13th, having failed to advance through Q1, Dovi was probably happier today than he was yesterday.  Iannone undoubtedly enjoyed putting one in the eye of Ducati after losing his seat for next season.  With but a decent start he could have won the race today, as his pace after the third or fourth lap was dazzling.

Farther Down the Food Chain

Dani Pedrosa showed some pace during the last six or eight laps today, finishing fourth for the third round in a row, followed by Dovizioso.  Vinales ended his day in sixth place, his sensational qualifying performance long forgotten, while Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Bradley Smith enjoyed his best performance of the season, crossing the line in seventh.  The top ten was completed by Pramac tough guy Danilo Petrucci, Suzuki afterthought Aleix Espargaro and Michele Pirro on another Ducati wildcard.

For the record, LCR Honda egoist Cal Crutchlow doubled his point total for the season with a sparkling 11th place finish.  Shut my mouth.

The Big Picture

Lorenzo now leads the season by 10 points over Marquez, a source of confidence for the Mallorcan if not one of security.  Rossi, despite deserving better, finds himself 27 points behind Marquez and only 12 points ahead of Pedrosa, with Vinales another seven points back. A gaggle of riders sits in the 40’s—the Espargaro brothers, Hector Barbara and Iannone.  Eugene Laverty, the great Irish hope, closes out the top ten.  That Hector Barbera is the highest ranked Ducati pilot a third of the way through the season says something, though I’m not sure what.

A Question for Readers

Someone please enlighten me.  How is it that Honda, with a reputation for overly aggressive acceleration for years, comes into 2016 with a bike that accelerates so poorly as to cost young Marquez today’s race and several others already this year?  Most recently, Marquez blamed his crash at Le Mans on pushing too hard to compensate for the lack of power exiting the turns.  Put Marquez on the Yamaha and I would be happy to argue he would be undefeated this season.  Honda needs to thank their lucky stars they have Marquez; any other rider would be residing in Pedrosa’s neighborhood, with 60 or 70 points to his name.

About Those Storm Clouds on Lorenzo’s Horizon

Jorge Lorenzo is by no means a shoe-in for the 2016 title.  He has engine allocation concerns.  He has a number of circuits—Assen and The Sachsenring leap to mind—in his immediate future where he doesn’t normally do well.  He has a hungry and angry teammate to contend with.  Marquez is out-riding him on a slower bike which he suggested today in the post-race presser the engineers are getting figured out.

Vinales is juiced and will be a factor once he learns how to start races. Rossi was reported to have spent the damp FP1 doing practice starts, working on getting up to speed in a hurry without wheelies or burning up his clutch.  Vinales should take a lesson from his teammate.  This reminds me of the old joke in which a tourist with concert tickets, visiting New York City for the first time, accosts one of the locals. “Excuse me, sir, but can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, man, practice.”

Lorenzo ruins Italian clambake at Mugello

May 31, 2015

MotoGP 2015 Mugello Results, by Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com 

Jorge-Lorenzo-Smile-HDFor the third round in succession, Movistar Yamaha stud Jorge Lorenzo jumped out to an early lead, switched on the autopilot on his YZR-M1, cranked up Kings of Leon on his MP3 player, and never broke a sweat in winning the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM.  What was suspected after Le Mans has now been confirmed at Mugello—Jorge Lorenzo is the man to beat for the 2015 MotoGP championship.  The only way things could get any worse for Honda’s double defending world champion Marc Marquez would be if Lorenzo were to steal his girlfriend. 

Let’s face it.  Other than Ferrari’s periodic dominance in F-1 and the salad years of Agostini and Rossi, Italians haven’t had much to cheer about since the days of da Vinci and Michaelangelo.  The European Union has done little to dispel the rampant nationalism extant in most of the continent, and the motorsports rivalry between Italy and Spain has never been greater, with Spain having dominated MotoGP for the last five years.  The rejuvenation of Rossi and the resurgence of Ducati in 2015 have given hope to Italian racing fans, 91,000 of whom were in attendance today hoping for an Italian victory, whether by man or machine.  Were it not for Lorenzo, as strong as he’s ever been, they’d have fished their wish, as Andrea Iannone took second from pole on his Ducati GP15 while Valentino Rossi, the #1 athlete in the country, finished third on his Yamaha for his 10th podium in a row dating back to last year.

For Honda Racing Corporation and poster boy Marc Marquez it was another wretched weekend in a season of wretched weekends, the lone exception being Round 2 in Austin.  Saturday may have been the single worst day of Marquez’ premier class career, as he finished FP3 in 11th position, the meaningless FP4 in 5th, suffered the ignominy of consignment with the dregs to Q1, and failed to advance into Q2, resulting in his starting the race from 13th position, the only time in his MotoGP career he has failed to start from the first two rows.  But as the race started, he looked like the Marquez of 2013-14, climbing to 3rd place by Lap 3, looking loose and dangerous perched on Iannone’s pipes.

Iannone, Monty Python’s Black Knight of MotoGP, racing with a bad left shoulder and fractured right elbow, would marquez_crashbecome a brick wall around which Marquez was unable to navigate while Lorenzo was cruising off into the ether.  After 15 laps of trying, Marquez went after the Italian again in Turn 3 of Lap 18 where the front of his RC213V washed away, sending him into the gravel for his second DNF of the young year.

For HRC, Lap 18 would get worse.  Moments later, Rossi went through on the tough Dani Pedrosa, looking recovered from his arm pump surgery early in the season, and who had spent much of the day in fourth place.  Rossi, having started eighth and faded to 11th early in the day, outraced much of the field on his way to yet another podium.  Despite leading the 2015 championship, Rossi knows that he will ultimately fall to Lorenzo unless he can get his merda together in qualifying, something he has generally been unable to do since the advent of the two-15 minute QP sessions in 2013.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Andrea Dovizioso, who qualified 3rd on Saturday and spent a good part of Sunday running with the group challenging for second place, retired with a mechanical issue on Lap 14 described as “rear wheel chatter.”  The chatter may have been about Iannone challenging him for the #1 seat on the Ducati team; Dial A Nickname Joe does love himself some GP15.  Pedrosa finished fourth—bravo Dani—in front of up-and-coming Bradley Smith, who flogged his Tech 3 Yamaha from the 11 hole at the start to another credible 5th place finish, following the #1 rule in motorsports which is “Beat your teammate by half a second”, Pol Espargaro crossing the line sixth.

Suzuki girlsSteadily improving Maverick Vinales, on the #2 Suzuki Ecstar, finished seventh for his best result in MotoGP while teammate Aleix Espargaro, still struggling with injuries suffered at Jerez, had another “sorely” disappointing DNF.  Spots 8 through 10 were occupied by Ducati, with wildcard Michele Pirro driving a GP15 to eighth, Danilo Petrucci finishing ninth pending an inquiry from Race Direction concerning an incident on Lap 3, and Yonny Hernandez closing in tenth place.  Constructor-wise, Round 6 produced another top ten comprised of four Yamahas, four Ducatis, one Honda and one Suzuki.

In addition to Marquez, other high profile crashers today included Jack Miller, enduring his indentured servitude on the CWM LCR production Honda, aging Nicky Hayden on the Aspar Honda, Stefan Bradl, heading for oblivion on the Forward Racing Yamaha, and Cal Crutchlow, who banged up a thumb in the morning warm-up and, like Marquez, chose the hard option front tire, which let him down on Lap 21 as he fought Smith for fifth place.

I would be remiss if I failed to suggest that part of Iannone’s success today, under extremely painful conditions, may have been due to the radically upgraded brolly girl assigned to keep him in the pre-race shade.  She, in turn, may have been to blame for Joe coming this close to jumping the start as the lights were going out.  Let’s just leave it at that.

The Big Picture

Movistar Yamaha owns the top two spots a third of the way into the season, with Rossi still leading Lorenzo by a scant six points; those two warriors could easily trade places in Barcelona.  Tranche Two, The Ducati Strata, finds Dovizioso two points in front of teammate Iannone, Iannone having the momentum leaving Italy.  In fifth place sits the dejected Marquez, on the bubble.  Difficult to say at this point whether he will rally back into the top three or, instead, go all immature and find himself sulking with the Tech 3 and CWM LCR entries.  My prediction of his return to prominence this weekend looked good early, but it’s pretty clear that Honda will not win a title this year in MotoGP.  The two Suzukis and Danilo Petrucci on the Pramac Octo Pramac Ducati close out the fight for top ten status.

Although Jorge Lorenzo is clearly one of the more popular riders in MotoGP, he doesn’t seem to inspire the rabid podium-mugello-2014fascination of fans the way Rossi and Marquez do.  Fortunately for you, the reader, I have discovered why this is.  When Lorenzo is dominant, as he has been for the last three trysts, the race becomes dull, at best a fight for second place.  When Rossi or Marquez is winning races, it’s almost always some kind of dramatic, come-from-behind, paint-trading, barely-under-control affair that sets fans’ blood boiling.  Watching Lorenzo win is like watching iron rust.  Watching Rossi tracking down some unfortunate frontrunner or Marquez barging his way into the lead brings on head-bobbing, body-twisting gesticulation, full of “oh nos” and “oh yesses”, punctuated by grunts, groans and shouts.  Put another way, watching Rossi and Marquez win is like having sex with a partner, while watching Lorenzo win is like being, um, home alone.  Fun, but not nearly as satisfying.

On to Barcelona!

Mugello Race Results

2015 Championship Standings Year to Date

Rossi and Lorenzo lead annual assault on Mugello

May 26, 2015

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

MotoGP brings its act from the bucolic French countryside to the hills of Tuscany as Round 6 of the 2015 season arrives.  Within the top tranche of the premier class food chain, the standings are scrambled, while the rest of the top ten reside pretty much where we expected heading into the year.  Team Yamaha has been hot of late, and this trend could continue in Italy unless Repsol Honda double defending world champion Marc Marquez gets himself together.  Right now would be a good time to do so. 

Rossi & LorenzoValentino Rossi, surprisingly sitting in first place, observes that Marquez would be in the thick of it today were it not for his decision to go for the win in Argentina rather than settling for second place.  The resulting crash cost him 20 points that he would dearly love to have in his treasury, the price of youthful exuberance combined, perhaps, with a sense of entitlement.  Reverse the standings at the top—Marquez, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Rossi—and you’d have pretty much what I expected back in March.  Of course, it was I who, after Catalunya 2013, wrote Rossi off, suggesting he had already won his last MotoGP race.  When it comes to consuming racing news, you get what you pay for.

Recent History at Mugello

Going back to 2012, Yamaha mullah Jorge Lorenzo has had things pretty much his way here.  Having won rather easily in 2012 and 2013, he got involved in a cage match with Marquez last year that left most people breathless, the young champion eventually “pipping” the not-as-young former champion by 12/100ths at the flag after half a dozen laps of shoulder-to-shoulder combat.

In the 2012 affair, Lorenzo gave us one of the performances he has recently turned in at Jerez and Le Mans, leading from Turn 1, metronomic in his consistency, his pace untouchable.  Dani Pedrosa took second that year, with Andrea Dovizioso providing the home fans with their only sunshine, punking LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl at the line, back when Bradl was relevant.  Rossi, in his second and final year flogging the Ducati GP13, ended up an exhausted fifth, while countryman Dovizioso was celebrating his third consecutive podium that season aboard the Tech 3 Yamaha.

2013 proved an eventful weekend at Mugello.  That was the year rookie Marquez, during practice, calmly stepped off his marquez_crashRC213V at roughly 150 mph seconds before plowing it into a concrete wall, setting a record for getting unseated at the fastest speed ever and living to tell about it.  At the start of the race, the excitable Alvaro Bautista, starting ninth on the GO&FUN Gresini Honda, went into Turn 2 on the gas while all around him were braking, sending himself and Rossi into the hay bales. Bautista was able to avoid an off-track beatdown only by virtue of the fact that the concussed Rossi was seeing double and couldn’t figure out which Spanish dumbass to whip.

Later in the race, Marquez crashed out of the lead unassisted, handing the win to Lorenzo, second place to Pedrosa, and third to Tech 3 ruffian Cal Crutchlow, who crashed so many times in practice his medical report ran to seven or eight pages.  The crowd went home disappointed, having only the pleasure of seeing Marquez with road rash on his leathers as consolation.

Last year, Lorenzo, despite having led for 21 of 23 laps, was unable to fend off Marquez at the flag, with Rossi third, less than three seconds behind.  The win made Marquez six-for-six in 2014, looking invincible, while Team Yamaha, doing everything possible under massive pressure, was unable to take the desperately-needed win at Rossi’s home crib.  Marquez left Italy with a 53 point margin over Rossi, a lead which was to prove insurmountable despite a great second half of the season from The Bruise Brothers.

Honda Suddenly Lousy?  No.

Take one bad decision and a broken finger by Marc Marquez, add discernible improvement from both the Yamaha and Ducati camps, and suddenly everyone wants us to believe the RC213V is an un-rideable piece of crap.  Let’s not forget that Casey Stoner swung his right leg over it in 2011 and won a world championship, and that Marquez did the same thing in 2013 and 2014.  The naysayers overlook Stoner’s relative struggles on the Ducati between 2008 and 2010, and claim it is only Marquez’s shimmering brilliance that has made the orange, red and white bucket of bolts competitive over the last two years.

Bologna.

Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding have added fuel to this fire by asserting that the Honda is much harder to ride than they had anticipated.  This sounds like Redding making excuses for a slow transition to new equipment.  And, as readers of this column know by now, we have heard little other than complaints and excuses from Crutchlow ever since he arrived in MotoGP from World Superbike in 2011.  Anyone wishing to cite Stefan Bradl’s lack of improvement in three years on the Honda need only look at what he’s managed to accomplish on the Yamaha this year to dispel that thought.

It’s hard to argue with the assertion that Honda was a more advanced bike than the Yamaha, and a world ahead of the Ducati, for a number of years heading into 2014.  Advances by both factories have closed the gap significantly.  With all the Honda pilots (except Pedrosa) complaining about a lack of rear grip, it may be that some modifications are necessary; it does not mean HRC needs to go back to the drawing board.  Take away the crash in Argentina and the busted finger; Marquez would be battling Rossi for the 2015 title and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

All of this may reflect a decision from HRC that, with the standard ECU going into effect next season, there is less incentive to improve the bike than has existed up until now; add in the Michelin factor, which will change everything, and it may be that what we’re seeing is Honda engineers marshalling their efforts in the calm before the storm.  If you had asked any of the riders graduating to MotoGP in the last five years what their first choice of bike would have been, almost all of them would have chosen the Honda.

Two Quick Hitters and the Weather Forecast

Espargaro brothersOK, we get it—the Espargaro brothers are as close as, well, brothers.  This past week’s news, that each had surgery after Le Mans, suggests they may be taking this whole filial thing a little too far.  With only four points separating them for the season, the Espargaros make me regret having been an only child.

I’m constantly irritated by how race announcers Nick Harris and Matthew Birt bang on and on about former world champion this and 250cc world champion that every weekend.  Not wishing to sound negative, but it’s difficult to ignore the hard times a number of former world champions are currently having in MotoGP, especially compared to the standings of the collection of “mutts” who haven’t won anything:

Nicky Hayden (MotoGP 2006)  16th      Andrea Iannone (0)  5thH

Hiro Aoyama  (250cc 2009)      19th     Bradley Smith (0)   7th

Alvaro Bautista (125cc 2006)   20th    Aleix Espargaro (0)  9th

Stefan Bradl   (Moto2 2011)      22nd    Danilo Petrucci (0)  11th

I won’t even mention Yonny Hernandez and Scott Redding.  Just sayin’.

With sensational weather forecast for the greater Mugello environs this weekend, the riders should be able to dial in LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Host LL Cool J poses in the press room during the GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live at Club Nokia on December 1, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)perfect race day settings.  One would think that Rossi, racing in front of his homeys, and Lorenzo, on a hot streak, at a very Yamaha-friendly circuit, will dominate the proceedings.  Personally, my imaginary money’s on Marquez.  And, in the words of LL Cool J, don’t call it a comeback.  The 2015 season has a long way to go.

The Chips are Down for Team Yamaha at Mugello

May 27, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Mugello Preview by Bruce Allen

mugello-circuit-aerial-viewMugello, one of the friendliest of the Yamaha-friendly circuits on the tour, hosts Round Six of the 2014 MotoGP world championship. In Italy, the Scarperia shrine sits just a notch below Assisi and The Sistine Chapel on the holiness scale. Since 2002, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, the Bruise Brothers of the Movistar Yamaha team, have won 10 of the 12 races held here. If, as expected, they get pierced again on Sunday by Repsol Honda phenom Marc Marquez, the party is truly over.

Jorge Lorenzo, the struggling two-time world champion, has won the last three races at Mugello. Although the track sits a half hour from Rossi’s birthplace in Urbino, Lorenzo has treated it as his own personal playground since 2011. The first two of those wins came while Rossi was working for Ducati, one hand tied figuratively behind his back. Last year, Rossi returned to Team Yamaha and looked competitive in practice, only to get Bautista-ed on Lap 1. Last year’s race was notable, too, for being the only tilt of the year in which Marquez crashed out, leaving third place to burly Brit Cal Crutchlow on the Tech 3 Yamaha.

Neither of those two events—Marquez crashing out, and Crutchlow finishing on the podium—are in any way likely to occur this year.

One recalls how Marquez spent a good portion of his rookie season parting company with his bike, including several times during marquez_crashSunday morning warm-up practices. He set an all-time MotoGP record last year at Mugello, calmly stepping off his RC213V at approximately 200 mph to avoid a close encounter with a concrete barrier on the main straight. It could be argued that the main difference between the 2013 version of Marquez and Marquez 2.0 is that he has learned how to keep his AIS—ass in seat. I don’t recall seeing him crash yet in 2014.

Whither Dani Pedrosa?

Marquez’ teammate, the Rodney Dangerfield of MotoGP, Dani Pedrosa, has evaded mention thus far. With a few notable exceptions, he has a formidable history at Mugello, with two wins, one of which came in MotoGP in 2010, the year Rossi went high side in practice and lost the #1 seat on Team Yamaha in the process. In eight premier class appearances at Mugello on the Repsol Honda, Pedrosa has collected the one win, three seconds, a total of five podia, and one DNF. He has finished second to Lorenzo the last two years. Although he sits in second place for the season, he is generally overlooked in most MotoGP conversations. It may not be fair, but it is what it is.

Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-380The racing media is full of stories about how Suzuki wants to feature Pedrosa as it returns to the premier class in 2015. He has allegedly asked for eight million euros to pilot their #1 machine next year, perhaps in an effort to see if they’re really serious about spending what it takes to field a competitive team. The whole thing feels kind of like high school, when a girl with a bad reputation would return, looking kind of good, from a few years in another town. You might think about asking her out, knowing your own reputation would suffer. But it might be worth it wink wink.

Cal Crutchlow is the current poster boy for “willing to exchange speed for a paycheck.” Now in his late 20’s with virtually no chance of winning a world championship left to him, the dignified Pedrosa can be excused for being tempted to make the same trade. Certainly, Eugene Laverty will remind no one of Kevin Schwantz or Kenny Roberts Jr., the last two world champions to wear Suzuki colors. A team comprised of Pedrosa and, say, Andrea Dovizioso, who is a free agent after this season, could put an improved Suzuki product in podium contention.

Changes on the Horizon

Colin Edwards, #2 on the NGM Forward Racing Yamaha team, will be riding a new team-built chassis this weekend, putting the bike at about 75% of what it will be next year when Yamaha reverts to supplying engines only, according to team manager Giovanni Cuzari. Edwards’ teammate Aleix Espargaro, meanwhile, is happy as a clam on the Yamaha frame, and intends to stick with it for the rest of the season. With Simone Corsi, the team’s Moto2 rider, having tested the MotoGP machine at the recent Jerez testing session, it is expected that Corsi will move up to take over Edwards’ seat in 2015.

Luigi Dall’Igna, the new Chief Cheddar at Ducati Corse, sprained his wrist this past week patting himself on the back for all the progress the team has made in 2014. He alluded to changes being made virtually every week in engine and frame, then changed gears, suggesting that Ducati might elect to design a completely new bike from the ground up. During all of this, reports continue to circulate that Andrea Dovizioso is actively shopping for a new ride next season, and that the disgruntled Cal Crutchlow may even buy out the second year of his contract while he’s still ambulatory.Ducati logo

Over at the Pramac Ducati team, the early impressive progress exhibited by Andrea Iannone has been blunted of late as he has recorded DNFs in his last two races. And Yonny Hernandez, who appeared to have a world of potential when he first joined the Ducati team in mid-2013 has failed to make any notable progress this season, yet another promising racing career nipped in the bud by the nasty Desmosedici. If Dovizioso and Crutchlow get out of Dodge, the silly season will reach new heights as Ducati Corse attempts to sign high profile riders willing to set their careers on hold for two years while Dall’Igna scrambles to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Paging Casey Stoner.

Finally, in the cruelest release of the season. Honda announced that they would be making “major upgrades” in the RCV1000R, but not until 2015. Thus, the poor chumps who elected to go with Honda rather than Yamaha in the “open” category will be effectively stuck in fourth gear for the rest of 2014. Nicky Hayden must be grinding his teeth to powder, as the last few good years of his racing life circle the drain on the severely underpowered “customer” Honda. No explanation was offered as to why Honda is not actively seeking to improve the engine this year, although the rules would appear to allow such changes sooner rather than later.

Last but Not Least

As you recall, the weather at Le Mans this year was, contrary to recent history, wonderful. But Mugello, where the weather is rarely an issue, has a dicey forecast for the upcoming weekend. Rain is expected both Friday and Saturday, with skies clearing for race day. If the forecast holds, it will put major pressure on the teams to come up with dry settings on Sunday after tweaking the bikes for wet settings in practice, giving everyone something to complain about. Can Marquez go six for six? Can Team Yamaha put both riders on the podium? We’ll have all the answers right here on Sunday evening.

MotoGP Mugello 2013 Results

June 2, 2013

by Bruce Allen

Lorenzo Rules Mugello as Marquez Crashes 

Midway through the first lap of the 2013 Italian Grand Prix, things looked bad for the Yamaha factory racing team.  Homeboy Valentino Rossi had been knocked out of the race.  Defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo had seized the early lead only to suddenly find BOTH Repsol Hondas dogging him, snarling and snapping, anxious to ruin his day and trash the season for Yamaha Racing.  Lorenzo would have none of it; he held his ground early, broke Pedrosa midway through, and saved the day for his team. 

The start of today’s race will be heavily replayed for the next few weeks, as Lorenzo and Pedrosa seemed to swap paint in the first turn, with no harm and no foul.  But in the second turn, Alvaro Bautista, on the FUN&GO Gresini Honda, changing direction, drifted into Rossi, sending both riders into the tires and hay bales at speed, with Rossi’s airbag going off, his day, and possibly his season, ruined.  The fans were incensed, Rossi looked stunned sitting in his garage, and Bautista looked, as they used to say in the Southwest Airlines commercials, like he wanted to get away.

Last year, Bautista did basically the same thing to Lorenzo at Assen, though that incident looked more careless than this one, which seemed to be what I call Limited Spatial Awareness on Bautista’s part, what other people might call a low racing IQ.  (When near him in a crowd, the other riders must feel the terror I feel approaching an intersection opposite a young woman in a 6,000 lb. SUV talking animatedly on a cell phone the size of a Chiclet.)  And while Lorenzo went on to win the 2012 title anyway, today’s incident took the pins out from under any remaining hopes Rossi might have entertained about finishing the season in the top three.  With 30 points and three riders between him and third place, it seems like a lot to ask.

As Regards the Repsol Honda Team

Early in the race, the Repsol Honda duo of Pedrosa and Marquez appeared to have everything exactly the way they wanted it.  Rossi was done for the day.  They were running two-three and appeared prepared, at their leisure, to double-team Lorenzo into submission on their way to a one-two finish at Mugello.  Which, for Honda, would have been epic, even ignoring the symbolic coup de grace of doing it with Rossi concussed in the garage.  Pedrosa would win his third race in a row while Marquez continued his apprenticeship.  Honda would enjoy a stranglehold on the constructor’s trophy, and Pedrosa, coming off a hat trick, would be the clear #1 rider on the team.

Pedrosa, who had stolen the pole on his last lap of qualifying, looked as if 2013 might finally be his year.  The Honda RC213V likes hot weather, a huge advantage later in the season, and Sunday was the warmest day of the weekend.  But Marquez, who had crashed three separate times in practice (and had to make it through Q1 before qualifying 6th in Q2), was lurking, ready to observe Rule #1 in MotoGP, which is to beat your teammate.  At this point, around Lap 16, I started to feel sorry for Repsol team manager Livio Suppo, who had to watch as his excitable rookie attacked his 2013 series leader.

As expected, on Lap 18 Marquez went through on Pedrosa very gently, leaving Pedrosa shaking his head, a vision of the future lingering on his visor, a future bereft of world championships.  We anticipated, before the season started, that Marquez would compete for the title only if he were able to avoid a lot of DNFs, which he has done.  Until today, when on Lap 21, riding alone, his rear tire suddenly materialized to his right—never a good thing—and he went down hard.  In the process, he surrendered 25 points to Lorenzo, 20 to Pedrosa and fell to third place for the year.  One rookie mistake takes him from six points out of the lead to six points ahead of 4th place Cal Crutchlow, the best non-Alien on the grid, who finished third today for his second consecutive rostrum.  [Will someone please explain to me, again, why Crutchlow is losing his seat to Pol Espargaro next year?]

So, during the course of the race, the Repsol Honda team again found itself with an identity crisis—who is the #1 guy?  Marquez has more pure speed, and is the future of not only his team but perhaps MotoGP itself.  But he’s a rookie, and has a reckless streak, too, as evidenced by his crash on Saturday when he calmly stepped off the bike at maybe 150 mph to avoid hitting a concrete wall.  Pedrosa is now the sentimental favorite, but whatever momentum he brought to Mugello, despite the podium, has vanished.  Both Lorenzo and Marquez have proven they can beat him.

To Honda’s chagrin, the team trophy is still up for grabs.  And Team Yamaha lives to fight again in Barcelona two weeks from now, their prospects seemingly dangling by a thread.

Elsewhere on the Grid 

Cal Crutchlow had another great weekend on his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha despite his chilling daily medical report, spending much of the day in fourth place until Marquez left the building.  Finishing in the top three for the season is very doable for Cal.  Stefan Bradl’s torment ceased, at least for awhile, today as he drove his LCR Honda to a hotly-contested fourth place finish, beating out the factory Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden.

There appears to be room for hope in the Ducati garage based on the performance of Michele Pirro on the so-called Lab Bike.  Pirro, a wildcard today despite Ben Spies missing his third consecutive race for Ignite Pramac Racing, qualified a respectable 10th in Q2 and finished the day in 7th place.  Ducati Corse might be kicking themselves for selecting Ben Spies over Pirro, a CRT rider last season reduced to factory testing this year.  He will probably return in the foreseeable future, as he clearly has more game than half the riders out there.  Including Spies.

Aleix Espargaro topped the charts for the CRT contingent, easily outdistancing Hector Barbera and Randy de Puniet once again.  Bradley Smith, whose entire body is being held together with duct tape and baling wire, managed a very respectable 9th place finish today on his Tech 3 Yamaha after several violent crashes over the weekend.  Both he and Crutchlow are physical wrecks, but both have their stiff British upper lips firmly in place, God Save the Queen, etc., etc. 

Saying Goodbye to the Tuscan Hills

From the air, the countryside around Mugello appears much as it must have during Roman days—lush, green, and fertile.  In the way of tradition and the very essence of MotoGP, the annual trip to Mugello is special for the riders and teams, similar to their reverential annual pilgrimage to “The Cathedral” at Assen.  If your career goal is to become a legend in MotoGP, you need to rise to the occasion at places like Assen, and Mugello.

Today, Jorge Lorenzo, a legend in the making, rose to the occasion.

TOP TEN RIDERS AFTER FIVE ROUNDS

Top Ten after Round 5

MotoGP Mugello 2013 Preview

May 27, 2013

by Bruce Allen

Team Yamaha Needs to Assert Itself 

As Round Five of the 2013 MotoGP championship season steams toward us, the very air crackling in its wake,  we are reminded of one of the oldest truths in motor sports.  We are reminded that championships are rarely won in the first quarter of the season.  They can, however, be lost.  Such is the inconvenient truth facing Yamaha pilots Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi this weekend at the circuit that will almost surely bear Rossi’s name someday. 

For Team Yamaha, finishing one-two at Mugello would be like holding serve—great, yeah, but nothing to really celebrate.  Anything less will range from a disappointment to a disaster, neither of which would be helpful at this point of this season.  Or, actually, any point.  Of any season.  Not helpful at all.

Expectations for Team Blue are high this weekend.  As are the stakes.

For the ebullient Repsol Honda team, fresh off their French triumph, putting one bike on the podium at Mugello is both necessary and sufficient.  Two would be a big win.  Zero only happens if someone fails to finish the race.  Two Hondas on the Italian podium spells trouble for the factory Yamaha team.  Trouble we might have seen coming, had we been paying closer attention to the season and less attention to Losail.

Losail gave us a false sense of Lorenzo/Rossi/Yamaha security.  Look at the points earned by the primary factory teams round by round:

Round/Venue

Repsol Honda Team

Factory Yamaha Team

     

One – Losail

29

45

Two – COTA

45

26

Three – Jerez

45

29

Four – Le Mans

41

13

 

Average (less Round One)

44

23

Losail affected our thinking, putting the end of last season, and the entire offseason testing program, out of our heads.  That was an error in perception. My error, though I’m probably not alone.  But Losail is, after all, the outlier, the season opener under the lights in the desert, and doesn’t really have much of anything to do with anything else.  So Lorenzo and Rossi’s surprising 1-2 at Losail obscured the fact that Honda appeared to have it very much going on heading into the season.  Other than at Losail.

Since then, that has been the exact case.  One/two, one/two and one/three in three “normal” rounds.   Yamaha might insist we throw out Le Mans as the second outlier—France in the cold and wet—but even doing so, the blue bikes are not keeping up.  Not in Texas or Jerez, which isn’t really surprising, given the layouts.  But not in Le Mans, either, where Yamaha success has generally come easily.  True, Rossi was flying when he crashed in France and looked to have podium written all over him, but such is life running with the big dogs.

Scoreboard. 

Changing of the Guard Underway?

If, as expected, Pol Espargaro signs a one year deal with Monster Tech3 Yamaha, it suggests the Rossi era at Yamaha will end, again, after the 2014 season, in The Doctor’s 35th year.  It will point to Lorenzo and Espargaro fronting the factory team versus Pedrosa and Marquez on the Hondas.  It means Yamaha will have to find more acceleration, while Honda seems to have found all it needs.

There is, too, the outside possibility Dani Pedrosa would not be offered a new contract at the expiration of his current deal after 2014. Lorenzo - Marquez To ride the Repsol Honda for nine (9) years, with all those wins, but no titles…And it doesn’t get any easier at age 30, which will be the age he turns in the first year of his next contract.  There must be those at Honda Racing HQ who have run out of patience with the gutsy little Spaniard.  They want titles; they don’t get all choked up listening to the Spanish national anthem.

Anyway.  If Marc Marquez is, indeed, The Next Great Thing and, by extension, Espargaro the Next Next Great Thing, then whom, we wonder, is the Next Next Next Great Thing?  Scott Redding?  Alex Rins?  Alex Marquez?

It was only 2011 when Marco Simoncelli looked like The Next Great Thing.

Whomever he turns out to be, he will enter MotoGP at a time when it is becoming homogenized.  When the prototype bikes will be getting slowed and the CRT bikes faster.  When teams will likely experience more sudden success and more thorough financial failure.  Where the rules will continue to bend in favor of the more democratic CRT bikes, and away from the monolithic factory behemoths and traditional sponsors who have funded and ruled the sport forever.

The revelation that Dorna Big Cheese and magnate Carmen Ezpeleta is a closet socialist is too sweet.  He’s starting to make MotoGP sound like kids’ rec league soccer, wanting “EVERYONE to get a trophy!”  “Yes, we would like 30 bikes that all go the same speed and that cost the teams €100,000 each only.  They can use as much fuel as they like and are limited to 12 engines for the season.  No other rules.  We don’t need no more steenkin’ rules.  12 engines.  €100,000 each.  Plenty of gas.  Brolly girls.  That’s IT.”  Which, in the opinion of a lot of purists, is in fact desirable.  Delusional, but fun to think about.

MotoGP is morphing, squeezed by economics , resembling World SuperBikes more each year.  Now, if Aprilia would step up with a two bike factory team, and if Suzuki could become relevant again.  Wouldn’t it be fun to see, say, Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies united on a hot new Suzuki MotoGP team.  If not Hayden, then perhaps Spies and Redding, who currently rides 9kg over the weight floor in Moto2 and would be a force on 1000cc.    How about Big Brother Aleix Espargaro and Crutchlow fronting a factory Aprilia team?  If Little Brother gets a prototpe, it’s only fair that big brother gets one too.

Back to Mugello

MotoGP success for team Yamaha in Italy—both bikes on the podium—would move the focus to the following three rounds,  spaced bi-weekly, more or less, in Catalunya, Assen and the Sachsenring  heading into the heat of the summer.  Catalunya favors Yamaha.  Assen and Germany both favor Honda, at least recently.  Let’s review.  Team Yamaha needs to score a lot of points in Italy and Catalunya, keep it close in northern Europe, and hope to still be in it heading for the U.S. in July and August.

Otherwise, we’ll be reduced to arguing Marc vs. Dani or Dani vs. Marc.  When we’re not scratching our heads over whatever became of Stefan Bradl.  Or ruminating about why Cal Crutchlow doesn’t get any respect from owners.

As to our hope for two competitive factory teams at the top of MotoGP in 2013, one of two possible answers will emerge in Tuscany:  If Pedrosa and Marquez continue their hot streak at Mugello, it will probably mean Honda all the way in 2013.  That would be a No.  If Lorenzo and Rossi find what they need and dominate the proceedings, that would be a Maybe.

Let’s not forget the 2010 race.  Mugello that year was Round Four.  After Round Three in France, Lorenzo led Rossi 70 to 61, Dovizioso trailing in 3rd with 42.  Rossi had his high side in practice and was suddenly down and out of the chase for the title.  After Mugello, it was Lorenzo 90, Pedrosa 65, (Rossi 61), Dovizioso 58.  It was essentially over, suddenly Lorenzo’s to lose.  In the blink of an eye.

At 200 mph on two wheels with the best in the world on the best of the world, as observed in Forrest Gump, “(stuff) happens.”  Marquez, to his credit, has been off his bike only once thus far in his premier class debut.  Pedrosa, on the other hand, has been separated from his too often to count over the years, generally with bad and lasting effects.  Marquez’s style seems to invite the close encounters he’s enjoyed over his brief career.  But he, too, has memories of Sepang, where he hit his head hard enough in 2011 to have double vision for the next six months.  While the rest of the world grieved for Sic, Marquez also dealt with the possibility that his promising professional career had ended before it fully started.

As we’ve already seen, such worries were misplaced.

See live coverage of the Italian Grand Prix Sunday at 7:30 am EDT on SpeedTV.  We’ll have the results of the race here on Sunday afternoon.

2012 MotoGP Mugello Results

July 15, 2012

An edited version of this article will appear on Motorcycle.com later today, complete with high resolution photographs.  Until then, please enjoy this, hot off the presses.

Lorenzo Rules to Extend Championship Lead

On a picture-perfect Tuscan Sunday afternoon, Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo gave an object lesson to his rivals for the 2012 world championship.  The Spaniard seized the lead in the first turn of Lap One and held it, unchallenged, to the checkered flag.  Repsol Honda poster boy Dani Pedrosa spent a lonely day in second place.  What little joy there was for the 64,000 Italian fans came in the form of Andrea Dovizioso, who took his third consecutive podium on board the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha.

Lorenzo looked fast and smooth during the weekend’s practice sessions, other than a brief loss of power at the end of qualifying that may have kept him from the pole.  Pedrosa, who spent the entire weekend inhaling Lorenzo’s exhaust fumes, looked geared up to attempt a reprise of his win a week earlier in Germany, and snatched the pole late in the QP.  That Round 9 would hold a few surprises was made clear on Saturday, when Pramac Racing’s ”Hectic” Hector Barbera qualified third, thus becoming the first satellite Ducati rider ever to start a MotoGP race from the front row. In the process, Mugello 2012 became the first premier class race ever to feature an all-Spanish front row, a fact I find incomprehensible, due to the recent domination of Spanish and Italian riders, both in quantity and ability.

We may have just broken another MotoGP record, by failing to mention Repsol Honda lame duck Casey Stoner until the third paragraph of the story.  The Australian, who just two weeks ago was tied for the lead in the 2012 race, qualified a dismal 5th, blaming, in order, the Bridgestone tires, his bike’s setup, the slow WiFi in his hotel room, and the wacky arrangement of gates at the Bologna airport.  At the start, he got caught in traffic, falling to 8th place.  Furiously working his way back from those unfamiliar reaches into 5th on Lap 10, he went hot into the Correntaio corner, known to most of us as Turn 12, went walkabout, fell back to 10th place, and finished a nondescript 8th.

Fine.  What About the Race?

Once the riders had put some heat in the tires, the first group consisted of Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Dovizioso, rookie interloper Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda, and a determined Nicky Hayden, The Other Guy on the factory Ducati team.  Dovizioso spent a few laps running second, and the surprising German Bradl a good number in third, appearing to be on headed for his first premier class podium.  Pedrosa went through on the Italian on Lap 5, and Bradl, incredibly, followed suit on Lap 10.  But Dovizioso eventually tracked the rookie down on Lap 21 to secure the final podium spot.  In the process, he again delivered for his Tech 3 team, and added to the mounting pressure on the factory Yamaha team to pull the plug on Ben Spies.  Spies qualified 9th and finished 11th, the last prototype to take the flag, some 57 seconds behind teammate Lorenzo.

Once Stoner left the building, the second group, which would end the day fighting for 4th place, included Hayden, who had given up some ground, Ducati teammate Valentino Rossi, Barbera and Tech 3 Yamaha’s Cal Crutchlow.  This group traded shots with one another for much of the afternoon.  By Lap 14, Barbera had dropped back, apparently with tire issues.  On Lap 20, Crutchlow and the Ducatis had climbed back within sight of Dovizioso and Bradl, setting up the best competition of the day.  By Lap 22, Hayden had clawed his way back to within tenths of both Dovizioso and Bradl, running flat out, trying to achieve his first podium since last year at Jerez.  Rossi and Crutchlow were hovering less than a second behind Hayden.  Five riders entered the last lap in contention for the final spot on the rostrum, with the crowd, as they say, going crazy.

With Dovizioso in third refusing to concede anything, Hayden attempted to go through on Bradl into fourth, and the two made contact, causing the American to run wide, the rookie somehow holding onto his line.  Rossi and Crutchlow went all carpe diem and sailed past the luckless Hayden into fifth and sixth, respectively.  At the flag, Rossi had his best dry race finish of the year, and Hayden could only grind his teeth, having outraced his fair-haired teammate all day, only to falter at the end.

The Big Picture

Midway through the 2012 season, Jorge Lorenzo has stretched his lead in the standings over Pedrosa to 29 points, with Stoner, his swan song in ashes, another 18 points behind.  The ascendant Dovizioso, campaigning hard for some respect and a seat alongside Lorenzo next year, sits in fourth place, 13 points on top of teammate Crutchlow, who is apparently playing hard to get with the brass at Ducati.  Rossi leads the next group comprising the top nine, just ahead of Alvaro Bautista, Bradl and Hayden.  Bradl’s 13 points today put him a single point ahead of the American for the season.

On the Lighter Side

As the riders lined up on the grid for the customary Pre-Race Sitting Around Period, the photo of the day was in the eight spot, where Bradl sat, surrounded by his team and the sycophants that clog the grid immediately before the start.  The breathtaking young woman attending his umbrella obviously works for sponsor Playboy, as she wore the tiny, trademarked company costume.  Bradl’s Bodacious Blonde Brolly Bunny will hopefully be featured in this week’s Grid Girls segment on the MotoGP website.  If you’re into that kind of thing, make sure to watch the video.  Worth the price of admission all by herself.

Not certain if this is the one, but she’ll do.

Apropos of nothing in particular, I couldn’t post this article without noting my favorite moment of the day.  It occurred on the last lap of the race, up front, where Jorge Lorenzo was sailing in clean air, footloose and fancy-free, as he passed in front of The Ducati Grandstand.  This is the section reserved for the most rabid and delusional of the Ducati/Rossi fans, where the attendees are given posters to wave in unison, creating pictures of their heroes, the Ducati logo, etc., etc.  Back in the day when Rossi was winning at Mugello every year, this section was the epicenter of MotoGP fandom.  Anyway, as Lorenzo rolled by, he lifted his left arm and gave an extended, friendly wave to the seats where he is Public Enemy #1.  Had he not been concerned about a possible post-race assault, he might have blown a few kisses their way.  Hilarious.

Valentino Rossi’s Helmet

Why we’re discussing Rossi’s headgear at this juncture is somewhat beyond me.  Regardless of what anyone says, The Doctor has lost a step.  Nonetheless, he is still a Big Deal in MotoGP, and especially so in Italy.  One of his traditions is to bust out a special helmet for the Italian Grand Prix, which he did again today.  It featured a tribute to Gianni Morandi, the Tony Bennett of Italy.  Bennett’s signature song is, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, and Morandi’s is called “Let’s Stay Together.”  The inference from the media-savvy Rossi is that the marriage with Ducati is not yet over, and that he will return next year.  Hope springs eternal.

It might have been more, um, suitable had Rossi saluted the band Citizen King, whose 1999 hit “Better Days” contained the following lyrics, repeated endlessly from beginning to end:

“I’ve seen better days, I’ve been the star of many plays.

I’ve seen better days, and the bottom drops out.”

Next stop, Monterey.  If you see Kevin Duke there, please tell him I said hello.