Posts Tagged ‘Qatar’

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

March 7, 2018

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

Part One
Overview

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

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

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

Screenshot (59)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why 2018 Could Be Spectacular

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

MotoGP 2017 Qatar Results

March 26, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Maverick Viñales Starts his Own Era 

Movistar Yamaha’s new kid on the block, Maverick Viñales, did to the field of the 2017 Grand Prix of Qatar what he’s done ever since he first placed his bum on the saddle of the YZR-M1 last November.  He ended the day at the top of the timesheets, having outdueled factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso over the last eight laps of the race.  In the process, he took the lead in the 2017 championship and initiated what is likely to become known as The Viñales Years. 

Saturday Washout

Weather conditions on Saturday evening in metropolitan Doha area were so foul that FP4, Q1, and Q2 were all scrubbed, leaving the combined results from the three completed practices as a proxy for the starting grid, to the immense dismay of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Alex Rins and, one expects, Cal Crutchlow.  Scott Redding, having led QP3, was overheard wandering the paddock in the wee hours, sniffing about how he COULD have taken the pole and it’s just so unfair.

Starting Grid from QTimes.JPG

Whatever.  Behind the front row, at least, the starting grid was a random collection of hardware and talent.  An unexpected way to start the season.  In an unfriendly locale, with Aliens Rossi and Lorenzo pedaling hard on the fourth row. And the impudent Johann Zarco comfortably seated in fourth. 

Rain in the Desert

The weather was bad enough on Saturday to scrub everything in all classes, a veritable gullywasher of a day.  And here I thought the ONLY good thing about racing here is that at least you don’t have to worry about rain.  Sunday came along with much more teasing kinds of conditions–spitting rain, breezy, high humidity, scudding clouds.  Just as the Moto2 tilt (won by Franco Morbidelli for his first Moto2 victory) was ending, it started sprinkling.

Dorna and FIM executives began hemming and hawing.  Riders started calling their garages for tires, making changes on the track.  The bikes left the track, the bikes re-entered the track.  The race was shortened from 22 to 21 laps, then to 20 with two warm-up laps, by which time the rain had mostly stopped.  Several riders watched the red lights go out with tires they had never, or barely, ridden, traction and wear issues all over the place.  Madness was in the air.

A Rookie Leads at the Start

Andrea Iannone won the hole shot, but as the field headed towards Turns 2 and 3 one of the Tech 3 Yamahas materialized at the front, accompanied by the animated shouting of announcer Nick Harris, “Johann Zarco leads the Grand Prix of Qatar!”   Madness! Zarco was followed in close order by Marc Marquez, Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati, and Viñales, who was keeping his powder dry within shouting distance of the front.

By Lap 6, Zarco was looking very relaxed, trailed by Dovizioso, Marquez, Iannone, Viñales and, of all people, Valentino Rossi, who had started 10th but worked himself up close to the lead group.  The law of averages suddenly made its presence felt, as Zarco crashed out of the lead on Lap 7.  Then there were five.  Having picked my boy Cal Crutchlow to finish on the podium today, he took revenge on me for past insults, real and imagined, by crashing out on Lap 4.  Crashlow got back up and immediately crashed again on his Lap 5 for good measure.

Viñales Prevails

With Dovizioso leading by mid-race, Iannone and Marquez traded a little paint here and there, just like the old days, while the two factory Yamahas lurked in fourth and fifth places.  Almost on cue, on Lap 10 Iannone had an unforced lowside in Turn 7 and crashed out of podium contention.

The last eight laps were outstanding.  While Marquez faded to fourth, never appearing totally comfortable with his tires, Dovi and Viñales began enjoying a number of close encounters, Rossi hanging back, appearing to wait for something to happen in front of him.  Viñales would take the lead around Turn 6 and keep it through Turn 16, after which Dovizioso would blow by him on the main straight and take the lead heading into Turn 1.  This continued until the two riders entered Turn 1 on the last lap with Viñales in the lead.  He held it all the way, in and through Turn 16, and took the win by half a second.  A legend, as the expression goes, is born.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Dani Pedrosa has had worse days than today.  With little expected from him, he qualified seventh, spent the early part of the race in mid-pack, then bided his time as guys started falling off in front of him, ultimately finishing fifth.  Shades of Colin Edwards late in his career.  Aleix Espargaro, in perhaps the best ride of the day, flogged his factory Aprilia from 15th position at the start to sixth at the finish, the best result for the team since they re-entered MotoGP last year.  Scott Redding scored a heartening seventh on his Ducati GP16, Jack Miller (we are officially amazed) was eighth on the Marc VDS Honda, and my boy Alex Rins held onto his Suzuki well enough all day for ninth place, becoming the leading rookie for the season.

For other riders, the 2017 opener was forgettable.  Crashers include Crutchlow (2), Iannone, Zarco and Bautista, while Danilo Petucci had to retire his GP17 with mechanical issues.  The KTM team of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith was saved from the indignity of finishing last and next-to-last only by the futility of Sam Lowes, who delivered his own Aprilia to the finish line some 40 seconds behind teammate Aleix, and was the last rider to cross the line.  Out of the points and, hopefully, dissuaded from any illusion that he might score more than 20 points all year.

We would be derelict in our reportorial duties were we to fail to mention that triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo, in his debut with his new Italian employer, started 12th, had four guys in front of him crash out or retire, and finished 11th, 20 seconds behind teammate Dovizioso.  We know rain gives Jorge the yips.  Now, it appears that high humidity does the same thing.  And, lest readers assume this is just a Qatarian anomaly, it is true that Lorenzo won here last year from pole.  Just sayin’.

The Big Picture

Having been burned in the past, we must be careful to draw too many conclusions from what occurred tonight.  We learned, or confirmed our suspicions about, several things:

  • Maverick Viñales is a baller.
  • Valentino Rossi at age 38 is about as good as anyone out there.
  • The Suzuki can compete for wins.
  • Andrea Dovizioso is the #1 rider on the factory Ducati team.
  • We have been underestimating Johann Zarco since November.

In two weeks the grid heads off to Argentina for its annual Bungle in the Jungle.  Rio Hondo is a Honda-friendly circuit, as is Austin two weeks later.  Marc Marquez should win the next two races.  If, instead, Maverick Viñales should win either, MotoGP is likely to have a new champion this year.  And if it does, you can tell your grandkids you watched Maverick win the very first race of The Viñales Years.

 

 

Testing season revelations

February 24, 2016

d7f9e438-0c47-467c-8916-2e7aa309cf6aLorenzo image

australia-testmaverick-vinales25With two of the three major testing sessions behind us and Losail beckoning, life at the top of the MotoGP food chain is beginning to change.  New teams at the top appear certain.  The relative degrees of improvement each team achieved during the offseason are illuminating.

At the end of the 2015 season I would have ranked the major teams in this order:

  • Yamaha
  • Honda
  • Ducati
  • Suzuki
  • Aprilia

Going into the 2016 season my take is that the top four teams are very close, with Aprilia remaining an unknown, in this order:

  • Yamaha
  • Ducati
  • Suzuki
  • Honda
  • Aprilia

I am not convinced Marc Marquez can stay upright on his machine frequently enough to contend on a regular basis.  Dani Pedrosa appears to be gently riding his 2016 bike in the hope of finding some grip anywhere.  Crutchlow has had some impressive moments at LCR, but his tendency to crash out of the top three on race day is a concern.  Neither the injured Jack Miller nor former Moto2 champion and graduate Tito Rabat at Marc VDS have shown anything thus far.

At Team Yamaha the brute talent of Lorenzo and Rossi and a manufacturer that does not espouse dramatic change, have put it in the top position again.  It appears the Yamahas have stood still, while some of the other teams have stepped backwards.  Herve Poncharal is putting pressure on his pair at Tech 3, Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, to show some get and go, fighting in the corners as in years past.  Appears the Tech 3 2015 M-1 doesn’t adjust as well to the 2016 ECU and tires.

The Ducatis are very interesting.  I give you one Hectic Hector Barbera, an underachiever every season since his promotion from the 250cc class. Barbera is pushing his GP14.2 within the top five, telling everyone this year’s standard ECU is BETTER than what he’s been riding with since he fell out of the top ten years ago. Iannone  looks to be keeping his powder dry in anticipation of Round 1.  A shame about Dani Petrucci, who will be dealing with a broken hand just at the time he could have cemented his status as a consistent top 10 rider.

The fact that there will be 8 generally competitive Ducs on the grid by itself raises the likelihood of top five finishes.  I will continue to bang the drum, in an effort to hatch conspiracy theories between Ducati and Magneti Morelli having to do with the ECU, the hacking of which has likely become a top three objective for the dev teams at Honda and Yamaha. The other two have their hands full already.

It appears that Maverick Vinales will receive his Alien card this season.  His new Suzuki has done well on tracks not built to its advantages.  It will be interesting to see how it does at cramped little places like The Sachsenring and Le Mans.  It would not surprise me at all for Vinales to stand on the center step on a podium this season.  Hot property.  Teammate Aleix Espargaro is struggling with ECU and tires.  One star rising, one setting on the Suzuki Ecstar team.

Avintia Racing is now sporting Ducati livery in an attempt to regain relevance.  It could happen.  Scott Redding and Loris Baz now have some grunt under them on their respective teams.

As for Gresini Aprilia, it’s a mystery.  The new prototype is not yet complete; the paint will still be tacky when they roll the first one out in Qatar–testing or race unclear at this time–and we will see if they have anything going on.

No one is squawking particularly loudly about ECU issues, but the tires are another subject. 13 crashes at Phillip Island are about 5 more than average. Faster warmup on cold mornings must be priority 1A at Michelin, running just behind Front Grip.

If the season were to start today, my picks for the top six riders would go:

  • Jorge Lorenzo
  • Valentino Rossi
  • Maverick Vinales
  • Marc Marquez
  • Andrea Iannone
  • Dani Pedrosa

We can revisit this in November to see how things pan out.

 

 

 

 

 

2013 MotoGP Qatar Preview

April 5, 2013

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

Pedrosa, Marquez feeling it as the season begins 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alien Debut Seasons

ROOKIE STATS ARTICLE 1

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

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

Late News

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

Round One:  The Losail Circuit, Doha, Qatar 

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

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

Lorenzo airborn on Saturday, finishes 2nd on Sunday!

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

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