Posts Tagged ‘Rio Hondo’

MotoGP 2018 Rio Hondo Preview

March 26, 2018

Aliens Travel Upriver for Round Two

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Right now would be a pretty good time to forget most everything you thought you learned three weeks ago in the Arabian Peninsula. This week the sadists at Dorna take us from the desert to the jungle. From them sizzling wide open man-made Qatari spaces to a grueling, tighter Argentinian layout hacked out of triple canopy, deep in the humid heart of nowhere. Marquez and the factory Yamahas like this place.

Well, okay, it does sit on a massive lake. A number of readers reportedly have their panties in a twist over reports that a possible win for Johann Zarco, Tech 3 Yamaha’s mid-career homme d’acier, was snuffed at Losail by a defective front tire, a report Michelin has apparently confirmed. This is not a statistically significant indictment of Michelin’s racing tire program. It is evidence only that, in fact, shit happens in racing. Jorge Lorenzo lost his brakes, at speed, in the same race and wound up with leathers looking like something David Crosby would wear. Several years ago Marc Marquez found himself de-camping his Honda at around 200 mph at Mugello and walked away from it.Zarco

Marco Simoncelli.

Yuki Takahashi.

Luis Salom.

It’s all part of the same deal, the same bargain. No tears in MotoGP. Pedrosa says he had tire problems. So did Jack Miller. Pol Espargaro did not crash out but retired with electronics issues. But truly unfortunate for Zarco nonetheless, not to mention chilling for the rest of the field. Contrary to the opinions expressed by many of you, I feel Honda has the inside track in the 2019 rider lottery due to Zarco’s age. Zarco doesn’t want to win in three years when the KTM bike may be untouchable. He wants to win next year; he’s old to be a legitimate first-time threat for a title. He won’t want his first legitimate shot to occur when he’s in his early 30’s (as has Dovi’s). He wants it now, as the expression goes, while we’re young here.

Recent History at Rio Honda Hondo

2015 was the year Rossi attacked defending champion Marquez late in the race, with Marquez going down and out in what would become his worst premier class season to date. He had started well from pole and appeared to be disappearing early but couldn’t get away. Rossi had started eighth but found something in the middle of the race while Marquez’s rear tire—blame the 2015 chassis– was busily decomposing beneath him. Rossi was joined on the podium by Dovizioso and Crutchlow. Lorenzo, never a factor that day, would come back later in the year for his third title.

Marquez Valencia 2017b

2016 was the Michelin fiasco, the mandatory mid-race switcheroo, Tito Rabat getting in front of Rossi as they re-entered the race, allowing his BFF Marquez to get away. (Rossi said his #2 bike simply wasn’t as fast as his #1.) After the reset, Marquez was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The true conspiracy theorists support the notion that Rabat had Honda factory team orders to impede Rossi if at all possible, allowing his training partner #93 an undeserved advantage.

Blah blah blah.

Last year, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a Bungle in the Jungle here in the Middle of Nowhere. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he uncharacteristically lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Poof. Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat, making it a twofer for 2017. vinales-on-yamahaedited

This is a Preview, Right?

So, most years here we’ve watched Marc Marquez tango with a factory Yamaha at the front of your basic high-octane conga line. This year the star dancers could easily include a Ducati or two; the layout may also appear to some as Suzuki-friendly. And is there anyone out there willing to suggest that Johann Zarco won’t be running up front with the big dogs? On a two-year old sled that just slams?

The current weather outlook is one the teams loathe—cool and wet on Friday and Saturday, clearing and warming up on Sunday afternoon. A dirty track to begin with, then two days of practice in rain, followed by a warm-ish race. It is helpful to keep in mind the fact that Marquez crashed out last year and still managed to win the title. So, a bad outcome here is not a deal breaker by itself. If, however, it is combined with an out-of-the-points performance in Qatar, it can make for the start of a long season. Jorge.

Idle Speculation

Have a little time on your hands? Want to think about which Moto2 riders will graduate up to the premier class in 2019? There is a report out there Yamaha is kicking tires in the Marc VDS garage, a deal that would appear to make perfect sense. Yamaha gets Morbidelli and A Spanish Rider to be Named Later. Dorna gets to see the Honda-centric mess put out of its misery. Yamaha should learn from this budding debacle (losing Zarco to HRC) and give factory machines to all its riders, both teams. See who has the onions to stand on the podium.

Such a team’s fortunes would be vulnerable to a downturn in 2021 when Rossi’s Sky 46VR team seizes possession of the second Yamaha garage. But by then either Suzuki or Aprilia would appear ready to sign a second team. If I’m Mr. van der Straten, I’d be looking to sell. Join up. Defect. Whatever. Suzuki appears to be on the right track, supposedly in search of its own satellite team. Aprilia and KTM were the only manufacturers to leave Qatar without points. Just sayin’, Sayyed.

The most fascinating piece of gossip to emerge from the three-week layoff is word that Johann Zarco is having discussions with Ducati. Simultaneously, there was an interview with one of the Formaggi Grandi for Ducati stating their intent to re-sign both Dovi and Lorenzo for the next two years. This is probably a red herring intended to stiffen the resolve of HRC to sign the clever Frenchman.

Based on results from Qatar only, it appears both Pecco Bagnaia and Lorenzo Baldassarri (for whom the tag BadAss appears unavoidable) are legitimate candidates for promotion next year. Alex Marquez, who was jocked years ago as being faster than his big brother and who definitely is not, doesn’t have me convinced yet. Miguel Oliveira will move up when KTM says he’s ready, which could be next year, or not. One guy who would make a fascinating dark horse is Joan Mir, a rookie in Moto2 who dominated while titling in Moto3 and has Alien written all over him. If Honda loses Zarco to KTM, or Ducati, I would love to see them call up Mir, whose contract, if I’m not mistaken, is directly with the factory. In two or three years he and Marquez could rule the world.

One Last Bit from Qatar

A separate observation regarding the overall health of this ridiculous sport, comparing last week’s results at Losail with the results from the same race in 2011. This year 21 riders finished. The winning time was under 42:35. The top seven were separated by 4.6 seconds; the top 10 by less than 15. In 2011, 13 riders finished the race. Casey Stoner won at 42:38; Jorge Lorenzo was the only rider within 5 seconds. The #10 finisher, Hiro Aoyama, was 29 seconds behind Stoner.

Despite the difficulties many manufacturers are having selling bikes, MotoGP has never been more robust, more competitive, more interesting. A new class of e-bikes promises short but exhilarating races beginning next year, though there will be an obvious need to pipe in some noise.

The economics of MotoGP are, for me anyway, impenetrable. One can only conclude, as measured by the amount of money the six manufacturers are pouring into the MotoGP programs, that results in grand prix racing affect the buying decision of a man in, say, Jakarta who is in the market for a new 125cc urban runabout. The comparison to American pickup truck owners—ya gotcher Chevy guys and ya gotcher Ford guys—is much the same. A big part of racing, I guess, is getting riders to think of themselves as Honda guys or Suzuki guys, a solid reason to keep a brand icon like Valentino Rossi in the saddle as long as possible. Even if he’s not winning he’s still creating a lot of Yamaha guys.

The MotoGP race goes off at 2 pm Eastern time. We’ll have results here before suppertime. People in the know expect Marc Marquez to lead the series heading to Austin. #winning

 

Marquez Hat Trick in Argentina

April 27, 2014

New country, new continent, same outcome 

Repsol Honda crown prince Marc Marquez recovered from a confusing start to win the inaugural MotoGP chase at the picturesque Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo.  After slipping briefly into seventh (7th) place from pole position at the start, the charismatic Catalan sliced his way through the field, spent 13 laps in second place giving leader Jorge Lorenzo the heebie-jeebies, and went through Lorenzo’s Yamaha easily on Lap 17.  Cruising to the flag from that point, he became the first premier class rider to start the season with three wins from pole since Giacomo Agostini in 1971. 

Those of us fortunate enough to watch today’s race witnessed what is the greatest start to a MotoGP premier class season in 43 years.  Longer than most of you reading this have been alive.  Some have referred to Marc Marquez as the greatest rider to come along in a generation.  After his performance this weekend, he is arguably the best rider to have come along in two generations.  Maybe ever.

As a rookie, Marquez seized the title from Lorenzo, a reigning double world champion and one of the fine riders of the modern era.  Today, he spotted Lorenzo six positions and perhaps five seconds, punked him at the time and place of his choosing, and barely broke a sweat.  For Lorenzo, having given up 25 points to Marquez in Qatar and another 19 in Austin, finishing third today and appearing on the podium must have felt like a win.  A mere two years ago, a result like this would have had him cursing himself and spitting thumbtacks.  Down 53 points after three rounds in 2014, it promises to be six long months of brave smiles for the gentleman from Mallorca.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Aside from the drama up front, there was plenty going on all over the grid today.  Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa had himself a rough start, too, falling back from the #3 hole on the grid and spending some quality time in seventh position before roaring back later in the day.  At the beginning of Lap 8 he sat in fifth place; by the end of Lap 9 he was running third, having put away both LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl and junior Ducati tough guy Andrea Iannone.  Pedrosa trailed Lorenzo by four seconds on Lap 12 and ended up beating him by a second and a half, despite having Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi in his rearview for most of the second half of the race.

Rossi, after watching his front tire get torn to smithereens in Austin, went with the Bridgestone Kevlar option today and was all over the board.  Finishing the first lap in second position, he ran wide on several occasions, one time courtesy of a hip check from Bradl, before finally settling into fourth place where he finished.  Having announced at the start of the season that the results in his first six races of this year would determine his future in MotoGP, I’d guess he’s still wondering whether he has what it takes to meet his own high standards.  Certainly, Rossi is too proud (and has too much branding to protect) to become the next Colin Edwards and continue suiting up years after his peak.

Stefan Bradl enjoyed a productive fifth place finish after starting ninth, courtesy of a brutal high side in qualifying that left him shaken, not stirred, in his team garage on Saturday afternoon.  Iannone, who has been impressive all year on the Pramac Ducati, ran with the first group again early in the day before finally finishing sixth, the top Ducati to cross the line, three spots ahead of factory rider Andrea Dovizioso who, occupying second place at the end of Lap 2, got passed like a hat at a revival meeting the rest of the day.

Let Me Just Say This about Alvaro Bautista

Dude seems to spend way more time and attention on his appearance than on his profession.  Cursed with abnormally good looks, he puts blond streaks in his hair, then has them removed.  Grows a nice two week beard, and today shaves it off.  Narcissists generally sit around wondering, “Gee, what can I do to make myself prettier?”  Alvaro Bautista shows all the symptoms.  Just sayin’.

Meanwhile, running Fausto Gresini’s factory spec Honda RC213V, he crashes out in Qatar, crashes out in Austin and today, with the pressure on, makes it as far as Turn 5 of the first lap before landing in the kitty litter.  This, barely five days after the volatile Gresini expressed “concern” about Bautista’s competitiveness, and three days after Bautista himself vowed to take no unnecessary risks in order to finish the race.

I expected Gresini to give Bautista the boot after 2012 and again after 2013.  There is just no way he will sign him to a new contract after this season.  With riders like Vinales and Rabat looking to move up from Moto2 next season, and Bautista’s history of underachievement and excitability—how many times has he found himself running up front early in races only to crash out, often taking other riders with him—Bautista is toast.  Devilishly handsome toast.  Adios, muchacho.

Quick Hitters

Once again this year, the Tech 3 Yamahas seem to be connected at the hip. It was 2012 when Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow seemed to spend the season fighting each other every lap of every week. Last year, Crutchlow had the advantage over then rookie Bradley Smith. This year, however, Smith and new teammate Pol Espargaro seem to be traveling in tandem again. Both riders crashed out in Qatar. In Austin, it was Smith finishing fifth and Espargaro sixth. Today, it was Smith seventh and Espargaro eighth. Unlike 2012, they are usually separated on the track most of the day, but somehow seem to end up back-to-back. Espargaro seems to be slightly ahead of where he was expected to be at this point, Smith slightly behind.

Nicky Hayden got worked by teammate Hiro Aoyama at the finish line today. As if having one of the slowest bikes on the grid isn’t bad enough, the Kentucky Kid gets jammed by Aoyama, who was last seen in a MotoGP top ten at Motegi in 2011. Ugh.

Cardion AB rich kid Karel Abraham, with another dazzling 13th place finish today, has collected more points in 2014 (8) than he did in all of 2013 (5). That Honda Production Racer seems to be working wonders for him.

Finally, before we start licking our chops over Jerez next week, we must note another disappointing weekend for Aleix Espargaro on the NGM Forward Yamaha. Once again, expectations were high after he qualified fourth. Once again they were dashed when he went walkabout on Lap 2. Although he recovered sufficiently to finish 15th, he looks capable of challenging for the podium every time out, but isn’t getting it done. We’re sticking with our earlier call that he will finally get his podium at Assen or The Sachsenring.

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