Posts Tagged ‘Valencia’

Life a Series of Surprises for Scott Redding

November 18, 2017

© Bruce Allen

Not wishing to appear ill-informed, I am aware that underestimating the difficulty of pretty much everything is a guy thing. I’ve done it a million times in my life and continue to do it. So it’s not that. It’s just his willingness to go against the conventional wisdom that says you’re better off staying quiet and letting people think you’re stupid than opening your gob and proving it.

November 2013:  “The switch from Moto2 to MotoGP is much more difficult than I expected.”

November 2015: “The switch from Marc VDS to Ducati is much more difficult than I expected.”

November 2017: “The switch from Ducati to Aprilia is much more difficult than I expected.”

Then the article goes on to describe what the mechanics must do to shoehorn his normal-sized frame into the “tiny RS-GP.”

Dude. Go race Harleys or something. Air out your balls.

http://www.bikesportnews.com/news/news-detail/redding-expected-easier-switch-to-aprilia-at-valencia-test

The Rest of the Story – Valencia 2017 #2

November 17, 2017

© Bruce Allen

We were taking a look at the performance of the riders at Valencia, in the order they finished the year. The first post took us through Jonas Folger in 10th place for the year. We continue:

  • Jack Miller finished seventh after starting 12th, another respectable day for the blunt Australian, whose tenure in MotoGP thus far has been somewhat predictably disappointing, having skipped the Moto2 class altogether. With little to ride for and his ticket punched for the Octo Pramac Ducati team next season, he didn’t mail it in. He also got up to speed on the Desmosedici GP17 in a hurry in the Valencia test. Good on, Jackass.
  • Alvaro Bautista, who did, in fact, mail it in, running last all day until finally putting an end to his and our misery by crashing out on Lap 15. Re-signed by the Pull & Bear Aspar team for next season, he had nothing to ride for and let it show. But his hair looked great, his smile wide and white. Happy to be there. Narcissist.
  • Andrea Iannone qualified on the front row and finished sixth, his best outing of the season, finishing the year strong with three top six finishes in his last four races. My view of his season through Misano was that he was sandbagging. Perhaps he’s just adjusting to the Suzuki and is a work in progress after four seasons with Ducati.
  • Scott Redding euthanized a grim second half of the season at Valencia by starting 22nd and crashing out early. With nothing to ride for, he has again worked himself out of a job, having failed on the Honda and now the Ducati. Perhaps Aprilia is the answer. Somehow I think not. Dude should be riding AMA on a big fat Harley.
  • Aleix Espargaro, everyone’s favorite non-winner, capped off an impressive second half by qualifying 8th, although he crashed out later. Aleix showed plenty of potential, had a few top ten finishes and just missed qualifying on the front row at Motegi, but spent too much time off the bike, too many DNFs, too many contusions. The bike needs to improve more than he does, but the overall trend for the year was positive.  Not as positive as KTM but positive.
  • Alex Rins qualified 10th and finished 4th in his best outing of a year trashed by a serious early-season injury to his wrist. Once he returned to “fitness,” he showed plenty of potential heading into 2018. I had him pegged for Rookie of the Year going into the season, and might have been right had things gone better. Plenty of reasons to be optimistic next season.
  • Pol Espargaro, the #1 KTM rider, showed major improvement in the second half of the season, though Sunday in Valencia was not his day. Having glued on his 10th engine of the season, he was forced to start from pit lane, got over-excited, and crashed out for his 5th DNF of the season. But KTM has it going on, and the outlook for 2018 is very bright for young Espargaro, perhaps less so for his teammate.
  • Loris “Too Tall” Baz lost his ride this season through no real fault of his own. But he’s kind of like a well-nourished kid who wants to seriously pursue gymnastics. At Valencia he qualified 23rd and finished 16th, mostly due to attrition. He will ride for BMW next season in WSBK and we wish him well. He’ll have the same problem, but at a few different tracks.
  • Tito Rabat had his best outing of the year in his Marc VDS swan song, starting 14th and finishing 10th, his first and only top ten finish of the season. He showed some flashes of mediocrity later in the season after a year and a half of utterly dismal showings. Ducati can be a career killer, but it has also saved a few riders. I could easily see him back in Moto2 in two years.
  • About the best thing one can say about Karel Abraham’s 2017 campaign is that he qualified 2nd in Argentina. Otherwise bupkus. Started 18th at Valencia and finished 14th. Returning to the team next season with another pile of sponsor money, a law degree, and, like Bautista, seemingly happy just to be invited to the party.

If you are interested in the results pertaining to Bradley Smith, Hector Barbera or Sam Lowes you’ll need to visit the MotoGP website, because it’s too depressing for me to try to describe with any good humor the performance of this trio over the year and again on Sunday. Smith finished 11th.  There.

Finally, a brief word about the Valencia test. Marquez, it seems, is going to be faster next year than he was this year.

Great.

Tuesday Valencia Test Results

November 14, 2017

© Bruce Allen

Here are the times from Tuesday’s testing at Valencia as of 4 pm, courtesy of Crash.net:

Valencia Test Day 1 at 4 pm

Keep in mind that Miller, Rabat, Redding, Morbidelli, Nakagami and Simeon are on new machines for the first time. The factory Suzuki duo of Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone were sidelined, doing the Aztec Two-Step all day.  Musta been something they ate.

Can’t say from here which bikes have received upgrades, although the designation of the Ducati GP17/18 suggest some, while there is an image floating around somewhere of a black Repsol Honda with some fancy new exhaust system.

The rest of the story – Valencia 2017

November 14, 2017

© Bruce Allen 2017

For me, the race was pretty engaging, even without a lot of overtaking. The tension at the front was palpable. Zarco drunk with the thought of popping his cherry and that of the entire Monster Tech 3  ecosystem, the best rider on earth keeping a safe distance behind him. Then it was Lorenzo and Dovi for most of the race, confounding, looking to all the world as if Lorenzo was impeding the Italian. Then it’s Marquez going in hot and, with an assist from the racing gods, staying in the race. Then it was the loathsome Lorenzo hitting the deck, followed immediately by Dovi, and that was that.

Well, no. There were some 20 other riders out there, some of whom need mention, a number of whom do not. This post will discuss some of them, the next post the rest.

In the order of their finish for the year, we saw

  • Marc Marquez–see Valencia results below.
  • Andrea Dovizioso likewise. He deserves a new teammate next season.
  • Maverick Vinales on the factory Yamaha, third for the year, with aspirations for a title as the season began. His season ended poorly at Valencia in the dry, as he qualified 13th and finished 12th. He had little to fight for, but the suits were around, and he made them look bad, almost costing Yamaha the #2 spot in the constructor’s championship. Lots of work in store for him and the team over the winter testing season. In the long run 2017 may have been good for the Maverick, disabusing him of any notion he is a god.
  • Dani Pedrosa–see Valencia results below. Next year probably his last with Repsol Honda.
  • Valentino Rossi started and finished seventh; not sure I heard his name called all day. Problems with the bike late in the season frustrating him to no end. More broken bones in 2017. Here’s a thought that will get the juices of #46 fans going: He was better when the competition (men and machines) was weak. Since his last title in 2009, too many great riders have been in his way–Lorenzo, Stoner and Marquez, specifically, with more coming–for him to go on stacking titles. Next year, I believe, will be his last, and he will retire with nine world championships, piles of money, women, power and influence. He can spend the rest of his career Being Valentino Rossi, becoming the Roger Penske of MotoGP. Let’s try not to feel too bad for Vale.
  • Johann Zarco–see Valencia results below. VERY hot ticket for 2019–KTM wants him.
  • Jorge Lorenzo–Gigi should bolt a sidecar to a GP13, don the helmet sans visor, and ride around with him next season, all 19 races, yelling at him in expletive-laced Italian about what a coño he is. Hold a major press conference in May announcing his contract will not be renewed and, no, he doesn’t know who their second rider might be in 2019. Remain in the sidecar through the end of the year.
  • Danilo Petrucci had high expectations heading into the season which were immediately dashed. Sunday was another one of those days, as Petrux finished 13th after starting 15th. Completely gassed after a year wrestling the GP17. New teammate next year in Jack Miller. Super.
  • Cal Crutchlow. Started 16th–nice–and finished eighth on Sunday. Five DNFs in 2017. No wins. Just another tranche 3 rider. Getting a teammate for next year in Taka Nakagami, who should post similar results. Taka comes to the team riding a huge wave of sponsor money which, for LC, is at least as good as superior talent. Ho. Hum.
  • Rounding out the top ten is rookie Jonas Folger, whose promising season was cut to ribbons by injury and illness. His return next year, on some iteration of the Yamaha M1, should be special, and I expect him to push teammate JZ all year long.

We will discuss the remaining riders in a few days. I glanced at testing a few minutes ago (it was on mute, so I’m not up to speed on the bikes) to find Marquez at the top of the sheet along with Zarco, Vinales and Pedrosa. More to come on that, too.

 

 

MotoGP Valencia Results

November 12, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com.

Marc Marquez Wins Sixth World Championship 

All season long, we at MO have been chanting the mantra, “Let Valencia Decide.” With the title unsettled heading into the weekend, the opportunity for a riveting finale existed (if only mathematically), Marquez holding a 21 point lead over Ducati pilot Andrea Dovizioso as the riders lined up on the grid. The math caught up with Dovi on Lap 25 when, desperate to get past insubordinate teammate Jorge Lorenzo, he ran hot into Turn 8, ultimately laying his GP17 down gently in the gravel. And so the 2017 title was awarded at Valencia, having been decided some weeks earlier. 

Practice and Qualifying 

All weekend, the MotoGP world appeared to be owned lock, stock and barrel by a sublime Marc Marquez. He spent Friday and Saturday zipping around the Ricardo Tormo circuit, seemingly without a care in the world. His approach to racing is unique and reflects his high racing IQ: He finds The (elusive) Limit on Friday and Saturday, then goes out and manages it on Sunday. As a result, despite hitting the deck 27 times over the course of the season, he crashed out of only two races.

Meanwhile, Andrea Dovizioso, The Great Italian Hope of 2017, was having problems coming to grips with the short, tight circuit that is Valencia. FP3, for Dovi, was a mess, and almost forced him to endure the ignominy of going through Q1. Q2 was little better, as Marquez laid down the first sub 1:30 lap of the weekend early in the session while Dovi could do no better than the back of the third row. The good news for him, if any, was that Marquez was joined on the front row by Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone, both of whom have been intemperately endowed with gobs of reckless abandon.

Despite the dreadful company on the front row, Marquez appeared buoyant all day Saturday, and the weekend had anticlimax written all over it. The racing god in charge of qualifying, facing ridicule Saturday evening from the other racing gods, was heard to say, “Bollocks. You guys wanted Dovi on pole and Marquez 9th? No idea how I got that switched around. Bloody hell.” And, before we get started, let me raise the ire of some readers while I mention needlessly that Dovi and Marquez, the last two left standing, received stunning upgrades in the brolly girl department. (By comparison, Jorge Lorenzo’s brolly person was 6’3” tall with long dark hair and an Adam’s apple.)

The Race 

As the red lights went out on the 2017 season, the two Repsol Hondas of Marquez and Pedrosa jumped out front, which was big. Johann Zarco, starting well, dispatched Andrea Iannone on Lap 1. Gaining confidence on the great 2016 Yamaha M1, he went through on Pedrosa on Lap 2 and was allowed through by Marquez on Lap 4, as expected. Marquez, he of the high racing IQ, had a rabbit in front and a wingman behind him; he couldn’t want for more. With a loosely gathered lead group of five, the race proceeded, um, processed this way for the bulk of the day.

Marquez Being Marquez

Lap 24 would prove instructive. Zarco continued to lead, visions of his first MotoGP win, and the first ever win by a satellite Yamaha, dancing in his head. But Marquez, rather than maintaining a safe gap between himself and the leader, began inching closer to Zarco, appearing to be lining…him…up. Lining him up, when the title was sitting there on a platter. But with Dovi stuck back in fifth…

MM’s lizard brain took over on Lap 24 and #93 went through fast on Zarco at the end of the main straight, executing another transcendent save before riding through the turn, the run-off area and a large expanse of gravel, practically needing to purchase a ticket to get back in the race. He re-entered in fifth position and finished on the podium after the factory Ducati team imploded.

Was this part of the Marquez team strategy? To let someone take the lead, wait until late in the race, see what’s up with Dovi and, unless he’s leading, go for the win and if it doesn’t work out oh well? Must be, since second place was there for the taking. Unlike Lorenzo, Marquez seems to stick with the plan.

Drama in the Ducati Garage

Jorge Lorenzo–expected, at a minimum, to stay out of Dovi’s way while the Italian tried to make his way up front—inexplicably and blatantly blocked him for the first 12 laps. On Lap 13, JLo received the first of three notorious dashboard alerts—Mapping 8—code directing him to allow Dovizioso through.  All of which he ignored. After having said he hadn’t seen the exact same messages at Sepang two weeks earlier.

By Lap 20 he had also ignored three clear pit board directions to allow Dovi through. My notes on Lap 21 included “insubordinate.” Lorenzo was, finally, gracious enough to crash out on Lap 25, clearing the way for Dovi who, as excited as an Iowa farm boy in a Vegas whorehouse, almost immediately ran hot into Turn 8, entered the gravel trap, and fell victim to river rock, the 2017 championship chase with him, dusted and done.

The post-race meeting between Lorenzo, his team, and the visiting suits from Bologna promises to be interesting.  And all this, after Dovi declared just a month ago what a fine teammate Lorenzo has been in 2017, especially in comparison to The Maniac he shared the garage with last year.

Repsol Honda Magic

With five laps left, Zarco led a menacing Dani Pedrosa and a distant Marquez. The last lap of 2017 took shape between Zarco and Pedrosa, not the matchup many of us expected, but a good one nonetheless. The grizzled veteran and the impudent rookie. The Frenchman with nothing to lose and the Spaniard with nothing to gain.

Pedrosa made short work of Zarco at Turn 1 of the last lap and easily held him off on the way to his second win of the year, with Marquez gaining the third step on the podium. His win, and the Ducati debacle, delivered HRC a rare triple crown in MotoGP—top rider, top team and top constructor. It also saved Yamaha from finishing outside the top two OEMs for the first time since the earth cooled.

Key Moment of the Season 

Unfortunately, there is no obvious event one can easily point to as being the decisive moment of the 2017 campaign.  Marquez says it was winning at Sachsenring and Brno, finishing the first half and starting the second half strong. Others might say it was the collection of impossible saves (races in Assen and Valencia, practices in Brno, Mugello, Motegi and, famously, the Save of the Century during FP4 at Sepang). Personally, I think it was Phillip Island, where Marquez’s win and Dovi’s dumpster fire fanned an 11-point lead into a virtually insurmountable 33 with but two rounds left. 

The Last Word 

Despite the fact that a sizable portion of the MotoGP fan world dislikes Marc Marquez, there can be little argument that he is the best rider in an age of strong riders and relative equity in the distribution of quality bikes. I never thought I’d say anything very complimentary about Carmelo Ezpeleta, the big cheese at Dorna, but his goal, begun years ago, to level the playing field and lower costs for the teams is working out, at least the first part. There is more and better competition these days, and what used to be a sharp line separating the haves from the have nots has become blurred.  Much more proletarian, with the exception of the party leaders at the very top.

Listening to Marc Marquez discuss the championship in the post-race press conference, it became clear just how much mental energy he devotes to his craft. Yes, he has the entire package of physical attributes and a great company behind him. He freely admits to practicing crashing on Fridays and Saturdays, learning to avoid injury and allow the possibility of re-entering a race. (See Joan Mir’s performance in today’s Moto3 finale.  Dude has Alien written all over him.)

Six world championships at age 24. Valentino Rossi holds the record of nine at age 38. There was once a day where it appeared inevitable a young Tiger Woods would eclipse Jack Nicklaus’ career-record 18 wins in major tournaments, and many of you know how that worked out.  Granted, there is a world of young talent out there readying itself to take on Marc Marquez in MotoGP.  Names like Morbidelli, Mir, Renati, Loggia and more. They’re all fast.  But do they have the will, the mental discipline, the determination found in few athletes—Tom Brady and Peyton Manning come readily to mind—it takes to string together world championships like a daisy chain at such a young age?

Only time will tell. For now, the motorcycle racing world has a perfectly adequate example of excellence at work in the premier class of MotoGP.

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

 –Vince Lombardi

* * *    

 Thank you to the handful of readers who put up with this nonsense year after year.  It is a pleasure delivering it to you and laughing out loud at your comments.

I’ll be taking a glance at testing on Tuesday and Wednesday and will occasionally post during the offseason. I’m discussing covering both MotoGP and WSBK next season with The Powers That Be at MO, so be forewarned. I will try to talk them into ordering a 2017 Season Recap for a few weeks from now. Otherwise, I look forward to your constructive criticisms and hysterical comments again next year.  Peace.

Here are some images from Sunday’s race in Valencia.

Marquez Champ6

Marquez takes his sixth title in Valencia, 2017.

Marquez from behind

Most riders’ view of #93.

Marquez Valencia 2017

Clinching the 2017 championship, Valencia.

Morbidelli

Here comes trouble–Franco Morbidelli

Joan Mir

More trouble on the horizon–Joan Mir in Moto2 next year

Three World Champs

2017 World Champions

Screenshot (59)

The man who would be king in 2017. Kudos, Andrea.

MotoGP Valencia Preview

November 6, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Dovizioso vs. Marquez: David vs. Goliath 2017 

So, 2017 has all come down to this–a technical showdown between Repsol Honda studmuffin Marc Marquez, gripping a 21-point lead, and a determined Andrea Dovizioso, virtually hopeless onboard the Ducati GP17, for all the marbles on Sunday. Even if Dovi wins, Marquez has to finish worse than 11th in order to choke this one away. To clarify, it is a showdown in only the most technical, theoretical sense. It will take a Dovizioso win and direct intervention by the racing gods to keep Marc Marquez from MotoGP title #4 on Sunday. 

Decades ago a nominally Catholic friend of mine came up with a premise as to which team eventually wins the NFL Super Bowl each season, The Blessed Quarterback Theory. Each year it’s just the blessed quarterback’s team that wins, regardless of anyone’s skill or resume. Paging Mark Rypien and Trent Dilfer. Works the same way in MotoGP. You look at the saves Marquez has made since coming up. Jorge Lorenzo was blessed in 2015. If Dovi somehow pulls it off on Sunday—millions hope he will—it will be because he, not Marquez, was the blessed rider in 2017. Otherwise, it’s status quo ante.

Recent history at Valencia 

The 2014 race was wet-ish and the title had been decided weeks earlier. Lorenzo slid out of the race late in the day. Marquez took the largely decorative win joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The day’s procession culminated in the coronation of Marquez for the second time in his first two years, and the MotoGP world appeared to be his oyster.

No one who reads this stuff is likely to forget the 2015 season finale, at which Jorge Lorenzo won from pole while loathed championship rival and “teammate” Valentino Rossi, having been penalized for his antics with Marquez in Sepang the previous round, was forced to start from the back of the grid and could only (only) make his way back to fourth place at the finish.  There was additional controversy as to why the Repsol Honda team appeared to ride as wingmen for Lorenzo, never seriously challenging him over the last few laps.

Last year, Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season.  Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration.  Jorge ended up winning the race, Marquez secured the title, and the podium celebration was awkward, the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he were crashing Lorenzo’s party, along with Andrea Iannone, who was, in fact, crashing Lorenzo’s party.

Of the Aliens or former Aliens, Pedrosa has three wins and three podia in 11 starts. Rossi has two wins and six podia to show for 17 starts since 2000, but the most recent of those was in 2004, when Marquez was 11 years old. Jorge Lorenzo, in eight premier class starts, has four wins and a third-place finish in 2009 to go along with several violent DNFs. Vinales has bupkus, but this is a Yamaha track. Or used to be.

Marquez can boast a win, two places and a show in four MotoGP tries, barely breaking a sweat. Just once, I’d like to see him race here in anger with something on the line.  Back in 2012, he won the Moto2 race here after starting 33rd. As for the factory Ducati team, you have one rider who desperately needs to win on Sunday and his currently winless teammate who has dominated at Ricardo Tormo in recent years.

This could get interesting. What is that term again?  Team orders?

A Word About Valentino Rossi

“You have to believe in what they can do, not what they’re doing.”

A.J. Hinch, Manager, World Champion Houston Astros

Over long periods of time, we all evaluate what these riders have done. The coach was referring to his leadoff hitter, and I’m talking about the folks who expect #46 to win his 10th, and last, MotoGP title in 2018. With Rossi, an objective assessment of what he’s done since his last title in 2009 suggests he peaked around 2008-2009. But the folks who wear goofy yellow wigs and set off smoke bombs and bombard me with constructive criticism believe in what Rossi can do—they’ve watched him do it for years—not what he’s doing. He is arguably the best MotoGP rider of all time. Just. Not. Now. Now, he is competitive—highly tranched, but not realistically expected to win titles. Unless you’ve got the wig and the smoke bombs and the Kool-Aid…

Final 2017 Tranches

After Round 16    Phillip Island 

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Dovi, Pedrosa, Zarco, A Espargaro, P Espargaro

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Rins, Iannone, Redding, Miller, Crutchlow, Lorenzo

Tranche 4:   Baz, Bautista, Smith, Abraham, Rabat

Tranche 5:   Lowes, (Folger), Barbera 

After Round 17    Sepang 

Tranche 1:   Marquez, Dovizioso

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Pedrosa, Zarco, A Espargaro*, Lorenzo

Tranche 3:   Petrucci, Redding, Miller, Crutchlow, (P Espargaro)↓, Bautista↑ 

Tranche 4:   Baz, Smith, Rabat, Iannone↓, Rins

Tranche 5:   Lowes, (Folger), Barbera, Abraham 

After Sunday’s race we will compare the above tranching to the actual results, i.e., how many of the riders were in the correct group according to the final points. Folger, a top tenner all year, will get hosed, but that’s the way it goes. He would likely be a 3. 

(Wonder how Zarco and Folger feel about moving UP to the 2017 Tech 3 Yamaha M1 next season. Wonder if they’ll ask to stick with the 2016 iteration.) Zarco’s bank account gonna get laced in 2019 fo’ sho’. 

Final Thoughts and Weekend Forecast

Perhaps the reason Valencia is awarded the last race each season is the weather. Not that it’s always great, but because when it is great, it’s really great. The long- range forecast for the weekend is sunny, breezy, dry and perfect, with daytime temps reaching 70° F. Enough sun to warm the track and tires for the riders, and paradise for the teams and fans.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I think the best thing that could happen to this race would be for Marquez to blow an engine, slide or go walky out of the points in the first lap or two. This would eliminate any touchy, don’t-be-the-guy-who-cost-Marquez-the-title riding around him, which ain’t nobody need.

What it would do is make for an astonishingly meaningful race if Dovizioso is at or near the front with one or two of the other fast movers. Teammate and homeboy Lorenzo, who desperately wants his first win on the Ducati and has team orders to “help” Dovi. Homeboy Dani Pedrosa, untitled in the premier class, with team orders to beat Dovizioso. Homeboy Maverick Vinales, whose bike historically loves a dry Ricardo Tormo and who needs to fulfill my preseason prediction of four wins. Cal Crutchlow. Andrea Iannone. Sam Lowes. Someone.

So, as the sports seasons—football, basketball, hockey—start getting juicy in the United States, MotoGP is preparing to call it another year.  Reason #644 in my book 1000 Reasons MotoGP is Invisible in the United States, subtitled “Yet Another Reason I’m Not Rich and Famous.”

We are looking forward to a memorable race on Sunday, and will have results and analysis right here sometime, um, Sunday. Probably earlier if it is revealed that Andrea Dovizioso is the blessed rider of 2017. “Dog Bites Man” can wait until later in the day.

MotoGP Valencia Setup

October 30, 2017

© Bruce Allen.                      October 30, 2017

Nine years since Casey Stoner won on a Ducati at Valencia, yet Dovizioso has to win on Sunday or else. Yamahas have done OK, too.

Assume Marquez slides out of the race on Lap 1. I know, I know.

In addition to Dovi, not counting Jorge Lorenzo, who wouldn’t dare, there are still four or five guys who are ready, willing and able to win in Valencia, which means Dovi has his work cut out for him. Guys who could be leading or closing on him as the last lap approaches. Maverick Vinales. Johann Zarco. Rossi? Probably not, for a number of reasons. Dani Pedrosa, Marquez’ wingman for the weekend, who could win the race and give his teammate a title at the same time. Who doesn’t give a shit about Andrea Dovizioso or Ducati. Cal Crutchlow. Aleix.

So, what we may get is what we asked for—a last lap battle for a title—between Dovizioso and somebody, just not Marquez, with nine years of history running against the Italian. Marquez, one believes, is not going to do too much fighting this weekend. Dovi is going to do nothing but fight. And I can’t imagine too many people getting too geeked up watching Dovi win and Marquez finish a distant sixth, say, and winning the title anyway.

If, on the other hand, Marquez is running by himself in 7th place with two laps left, riders who might have been deferring to Dovi, if any, could change their minds and go after him. Even Lorenzo, whose team orders would have likely expired by then. I would pay good money to see Lorenzo and Dovi going neck and neck during the final lap, even with the title effectively out of reach. Lorenzo wanting his first win on the Ducati. Dovi wanting to keep his disappearing title chance alive.

That would be worth the price of admission. In fact, the odds, as I see them, are pretty high that we will have a dramatic last lap or three, with the title possibly on the line. Take THAT, F-1.

If this site had the horsepower, I would offer up a real survey.

Survey: Rider Most Likely to Fight with Dovizioso over the Last Two Laps:

◊ Maverick Vinales
◊ Johann Zarco
◊ Dani Pedrosa
◊ Cal Crutchlow
◊ Aleix Espargaro

MotoGP Sepang Results

October 29, 2017

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Valencia WILL Decide as Dovizioso Wins in Malaysia 

Factory Ducati #1 rider Andrea Dovizioso could hope for but one thing as the starting lights went out at the wet Sepang circuit—win the race and keep the title chase alive heading back to Spain for the finale.  Trailing defending champ Marc Marquez by 33 points entering the day, he needed to cut the deficit to less than 25 to avoid having to endure another nauseating Marquez title celebration. By winning the race, and with Marquez off the podium, the 2017 title will be decided in two weeks, and is more likely to end with a whimper than a bang. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Friday provided a dry session for FP1 and a wet session for FP2. Dovi topped the charts during both, looking very relaxed for a guy down 33 points with two races left. Marquez, typically, took his time in FP1, looking around, then got serious during the wet afternoon session and trailed only Dovizioso at the end of the day

Saturday was hot and “dry” all day, if you think of 90% relative humidity as “dry.” FP3 was decisive in culling the herd, as all but two of the riders set their fastest times of the weekend in the morning, topped by Dr. Rossi, who came out of nowhere on Friday to headline FP3 on Saturday. Those passing directly into Q2 included both factory riders from the Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Ducati teams and the two satellite Hondas of Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller, who has been on something of a roll since breaking his leg.

Q1 was pretty orderly, as my boy Alex Rins and KTM heartthrob Pol Espargaro made it through to Q2, Espargaro directly after laying down his bike very late in the session. This set the stage for Q2, which I would like to summarize by simply listing the riders who sat pole during the 15 minute session:

Jack Miller (after Marquez crashed on his first flying lap)

Johann Zarco, looking fast all weekend

Dani Pedrosa, loving the hot track

Jorge Lorenzo, loving the dry track

Johann Zarco again, and for quite awhile. Then, quickly, as the session was ending

Dani Pedrosa

Valentino Rossi

Andrea Dovizioso

Johann Zarco once more, and, finally

Dani Pedrosa, for his first pole since Catalunya.

The final minute of the session was a blur, one which pushed Marquez to the seven spot, topping row 3. After his first lap crash, he changed bikes, put in one fast lap in which he was out of shape most of the time, got off the bike and had it put away for Sunday.  Previously, FP4 was the scene of what some are calling The Save of the Century, when he traveled perhaps 60 yards on his rear wheel and right knee, his front wheel, akimbo, laying down a thick black line, before righting himself and continuing gingerly down the road.

So, Sunday’s race would feature Pedrosa, Zarco and Dovizioso on the front row and Rossi, Vinales and Lorenzo on Row 2, with Marquez, Rins and Iannone comprising Row 3. With loose cannons Zarco and Iannone in the mix heading into Turn 1, it seemed Sunday’s race, for some riders, could be rather brief. Not a good thing with a championship at stake late in the season. No one wants to be collateral damage, or the cause of it.

The Race

Once the red lights went out on Sunday, Marquez appeared to have been shot out of a howitzer, taking the hole shot into Turn 1 hot, then watching Johann Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo slip by as he settled into third, Dovizioso trailing in fourth. On Lap 4, Dovizioso and Marquez did a little do-si-do after which Dovizioso took over third place and Marquez dropped back to fourth, where he would finish. So far so good for the Italian challenger, though Lorenzo and Zarco would still need to be dealt with. At that point, there was plenty of race left.

By Lap 9, Zarco appeared to be having issues with his soft rear rain tire, as first Lorenzo, then Dovizioso, went through on him.  (Though he would not win today’s race, he did clinch the Rookie of the Year award, as well as the Top Independent Rider for 2017, and he will be a hot property in next year’s silly season.) Thus, with factory Ducati rider Lorenzo leading factory Ducati rider Dovizioso, the talk in the commentary booth turned to “team orders,” that euphemism loathed by racing fans in which money and/or politics is injected into the rather Darwinian proceedings on track, occasionally producing some perverse results.  The Ferrari F-1 team back in the 90’s, head and shoulders above the rest of the field, with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello driving, used to take turns winning races, to the disgust of fans around the world.  Such concerns were alive and well in Malaysia today.

Lorenzo did not appear to be having any of it.  The triple MotoGP champion, winless in 2017 with an ego as big as the great outdoors, had said, earlier in the year, that if Dovi needed “help” in Valencia he would try to provide it. This, however, was not Valencia, although it might as well have been.  Had Lorenzo beaten Dovizioso today, with Marquez slotted fourth, the championship would have been decided.

Other than Alex Rins getting disqualified for taking a shortcut back to the pits on Lap 12, things proceeded apace until Lap 16. At turn 15, the hairpin between the back and front straights, Lorenzo lost his grits, ran wide, nearly came off, and left a bright red stripe on the asphalt where his left knee slider was all that stood between him and a painful visit to the kitty litter. While this was going on, Dovizioso quietly slipped through and took the lead he would not relinquish.

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez’ ride today was reminiscent of his outing at Brno in 2014.  He had won the first 10 races that year.  He was virtually a mortal lock to win the title.  He had been fast all weekend in practice.  Yet, once the race rolled around, he appeared disinterested in challenging for the lead and an untouchable record 11th consecutive premier class win. Instead, like today, he rode a conservative, low-risk race to a 4th place finish with no harm done. His effort today sets up a deciding match in Valencia, but not the kind we were hoping for.

Marc Marquez returns to Spain in two weeks leading by 21 points. The number of permutations and combinations on offer next time out plummeted today. Dovizioso must win the next race to have any kind of chance for the championship; should he finish second or worse, Marquez is champion again.  Assuming, for a moment, that Dovi wins, Marquez would have to finish 12th or worse, the odds of which, with a title on the line, are incalculably high. Back in the day when I had a friendly bookie in St. Louis, such a parley—Dovi wins, Marquez scoring fewer than five points—would pay around 200-1. So, though we may have the pleasure of watching the title decided at the last race—our fervent hope all season—it provides about as much drama as watching iron rust.

Preparing for Valencia

We have a number of things on our plate for the next two weeks. The final tranching of the riders. Trying to figure out a way to pump some drama into the last race of the season.  Most worrisome of all, coming up with a classic quote that captures the essence of a great campaign that may have lasted two weeks too long. Andrea Dovizioso has enjoyed his finest MotoGP season ever this year, tripling his number of career premier class wins and pushing the eighth wonder of the world to the brink to the very end.

Andrea Dovizioso in 2017 is destined for one of two undesired labels.  The first is “plucky,” which will be his if he finishes second this season.  The second is “lucky,” which will be his if he wins in Valencia and Marquez finishes out of the points, having been collected, for example, by an Andrea Iannone or an Alvaro Bautista, each on his way to another undistinguished season.  Riders in Valencia may be somewhat cautious around Marquez, not wishing to be the villain, or goober, who keeps him from his appointed fourth premier class title in 2017.

MotoGP 2016 Valencia Results

November 13, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lorenzo ends his tenure with Yamaha in style 

Heading into the finale of the 2016 season, the atmosphere in Valencia was mostly celebratory.  The title had been decided, the silly season was well over, and most of the riders were competing for pride alone.  The Ricardo Tormo circuit here is one of the top venues in this sport, loved by the Spanish riders and most of the others, too.  Bragging rights during the offseason are nice and all, but pale in comparison to a season finale with a title on the line such as we saw in 2013 and last year. 

During the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday one got the feeling that this one would boil down to a duel between Honda world champion Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, who is defecting to the factory Ducati team after nine years and three titles with Big Blue.  Lorenzo was anxious for a win in his final race for Yamaha, wanting to go out on top after a difficult season.  Marquez wanted to cap off his third premier class title with an exclamation point, as well as to avoid an awkward podium celebration.

In the end, it didn’t rain.  El Gato fished his wish, while Marquez had to be satisfied with simply being king of the moto racing world.  Jorge won the race, Marquez won the title, and the podium celebration was awkward, the Spanish national anthem blaring in the background, Lorenzo over-celebrating (like he had just won another world championship), and Marquez looking somewhat abashed, as if he was crashing Lorenzo’s party.  The third rider on the podium, Andrea Iannone, did nothing maniacal and sacked up with a t-shirt thanking Ducati for allowing him to break so many expensive motorcycles before getting shunted off to the Suzuki team for next year.

Jorge Lorenzo and Q2 on Saturday 

Having been out of town all weekend, I was finally able to locate an internet connection in northern Arizona and catch Q2 late Saturday night.  It may have been the most interesting 15 minutes of the weekend.  Watching it, one inferred that Lorenzo was determined to start the race from pole.

After his out lap, he set a new track record with the first lap ever by a motorcycle under 1:30 in the history of the track.  He pitted, changed his front tire, got up to speed on his second out lap and proceeded to set a second track record before heading back to the pits.  Again, his crew put new rubber on his M-1 and sent him back out.  Again, after his out lap he set a third track record, claimed pole, and sent a message to the grid:  Kindly stay the hell out of my way tomorrow or my crew and I will convert you to a grease spot on the tarmac.  Marquez and Rossi made up the rest of the front row, to the dismay of riders who had been entertaining visions of becoming the 10th rider to win a race this season.

Lorenzo vs. Marquez on Sunday 

Though Marquez and Suzuki wonderkid Maverick Vinales were quickest in the morning warmup, while the factory Yamahas loitered in sixth and seventh, very few people could have been thinking this wasn’t going to feature the winners of the last four premier class titles battling hammer and tongs all day Sunday.

The race was over in ten seconds.

When the lights went out, Lorenzo, taking the hole shot, appeared to have been launched from a cannon, while Marquez, fighting inertia, gravity and a number of other laws of physics, found himself buried in the vicinity of sixth or seventh place in the first few turns, at a narrow, tight track that makes overtaking difficult.  At the same time, Andrea Iannone materialized on Lorenzo’s back wheel, after having started seventh.  The lead group formed up quickly, comprised of Lorenzo, Iannone, Vinales, Rossi, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, making a cameo after his seventh (!) collarbone surgery a month ago.

True, there was a bunch of jockeying around all over the track, but in terms of material effect there were basically three “events” today.  First, Lorenzo got away and started laying down a series of 1:31 laps, riding on rails, the old Jorge back and in charge.  The second occurred on Lap 19, when Marquez finally got past Rossi into second place, Rossi tuckered out from spending the entire afternoon jousting with Iannone.  The third took place on Lap 29 when Iannone, who appeared to be out of energy and rubber several laps earlier, went through on Rossi, pushing The Doctor off the podium.

It should be noted that Marquez was chasing down Lorenzo over the last four or five laps, closing the gap from over five seconds to under two seconds.  Had the race lasted another two or three laps, there is no doubt here that Marquez would have won and avoided the aforementioned awkward podium celebration.  The hard front tire Marquez had chosen appeared to have a lot more life left in it than Lorenzo’s medium, which appeared to be shedding in some super slo-mo shots late in the race.  Just sayin’.

Bits and Pieces 

Cal Crutchlow, seemingly everyone’s favorite rider, took advantage of Dani Pedrosa’s crash on Lap 7 (which opened the door for a sixth-place finish for the year) by sliding off on Lap 17, apparently not wishing to kick a swarthy, diminutive Spanish rider when he’s down.  And Jack Miller, seemingly everyone’s second-favorite rider, finished 15th and earned yet another point.  Thanks to both for not messing with my assertion that neither is an Alien-class rider.

Mika Kallio rode his KTM machine well for much of the day before retiring with electronics issues.  Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro look to have a long year in store for themselves in 2017, but I, for one, expect KTM to make great strides in the next few years.  Despite being a low budget operation in MotoGP, they have that German engineering thing working for themselves; a little early success next year would be great.  Most folks are dazzled by the progress shown by Suzuki over the past two seasons.  KTM (and Aprilia) will benefit from the concessions available to non-race winning brands.  Assuming they can manage the finances, it would be great to have five or six competitive constructors filling the grid in a few years.

Today’s win put a halt to the disturbing victory drought that has haunted Lin Jarvis since Catalunya.  Losing Jorge Lorenzo to Ducati is bad, true, but gaining Maverick Vinales, The Next Great Rider, is good.  Better, perhaps, given the eight-year difference in their ages.

Happy Trails to You

The most interesting season in recent memory is now history.  More than half of the top riders will be on new equipment starting Tuesday, which supports my contention that next year’s title fight will be primarily between Rossi and Marquez.  I spent the last few days driving a rented Ford Expedition around Arizona and can assure any of you still reading that I would have been faster and more comfortable in one of my own smaller, slower, more familiar cars.  One must assume that the same is true in grand prix motorcycle racing.

We end the 2016 campaign the same way we end every campaign, by disinterring some dusty chestnut of a quote that captures the essence of the season in a few words.  This seemed appropriate:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

                                                             –Martin Luther King, Jr. 

For young Marc Marquez, five-time world champion at age 23, the clear, ringing answer is, “Kicking their butts all over the playground.  Dominating their sport, living their dreams.  And waiting for my beard to come in, so I can look more badass, like Hector Barbera.”  Perhaps this is not the response Dr. King sought, back in the day.  It is, however, The Truth.

See you next spring.

MotoGP 2016 Valencia Preview

November 7, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

The curtain closes on a fine season 

What will people reading this remember about the 2016 MotoGP season?  A Marquez year, his third of many, for sure.  The year Crutchlow won his first two races?  The year Jack Miller, Andrea Iannone and Maverick Vinales each won his first?  The year Suzuki and Ducati and Australia broke their droughts?  The year Yamaha started one of their own?  My fave is the year nine different riders stood on the top step of the podium, some for the first time and some, perhaps, for the last. 

Dorna big cheese Carmelo Ezpeleta’s Great Leavening proceeds apace.  The field has become more level, the notion of a win more plausible for the riders who aren’t Top Four or Five material; Jack Miller, currently residing in 17th place for the season, won in Assen.  Though one goal going in had been to make MotoGP more affordable, a laughable proposition, it did serve its twin purpose of delivering more competitive racing front to back on the grid.  It enticed Aprilia and KTM (wildcarding this weekend with Mika Kallio onboard) back into the fold.  It got Ducati back into big boy pants.

Lap times haven’t changed much.  It’s not as sexy as the custom ECU setup was, but I, for one, like it.  More rider, (slightly) less technology.  And next year, no wingies.  You readers are making me into some kind of old school purist. 

Previous History at Valencia 

Lorenzo’s 2013 finale win was a hollow victory; having needed the win, he was unable to keep Marquez out of the top five, which he also needed to do, resulting in the remarkable rookie’s first premier class title. Lorenzo’s problem that day wasn’t Marquez but Dani Pedrosa, who kept pressure on the Mallorcan sufficient to prevent him from coming back to the field in an effort to hinder Marquez, who ultimately finished third. Rossi, at the end of his first year back with Yamaha, was unable to lend his teammate a hand while finishing fourth; this was back when they were getting along.

The 2014 race was wet-ish, though the title had been decided weeks earlier. Lorenzo slid out of the race with six laps left. Marquez took the win, blowing kisses to his fans during his victory lap, and was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The day’s procession culminated in the coronation of Marquez for the second time in two years, and the MotoGP world appeared to be his oyster. Little did we know then the trials 2015 held in store for him.

No one who reads this stuff is likely to forget the 2015 season finale, at which Jorge Lorenzo won from pole while championship rival and “teammate” Valentino Rossi, having been penalized for his antics with Marquez in Sepang the previous week, was forced to start from the back of the grid and could only (only) make his way back to fourth place at the finish.  There was additional controversy as to why the Repsol Honda team appeared to ride as wingmen for Lorenzo, never seriously challenging him over the last few laps.  El Gato’s fans were delirious, but the rest of the world seemed ticked off.

Of the four riders formally-known-as-Aliens, Pedrosa has the best record here, with three wins and three podia in ten starts. Rossi has two wins and six podia to show for 16 starts since 2000, but the most recent of those was in 2004, when Marc Marquez was 11 years old. Jorge Lorenzo, in seven premier class starts, has three wins and a third-place finish in 2009 to go along with several violent DNFs. Marquez can boast of a win, a place and a show in three MotoGP tries, barely breaking a sweat; I’d like to see him race here when the pressure’s on.  For those of you who insist, Cal Crutchlow DNF’d the 2013 race, got beat at the flag by Dovizioso in 2014 on his way to 5th place, and found himself in 9th position last year, 36 seconds off the pace.  There.

Sidebars

Most of the intrigue this weekend will emanate from the middle of the grid.  The civil war at Pramac Ducati is almost over; Petrucci has Redding by 16 heading into Valencia in the contest for factory GP17 next year.  Ducati pilots Hector Barbera and Andrea Iannone are fighting furiously for 9th place for the season, with Barbera holding a one point advantage coming into the weekend.  Meanwhile, Eugene Laverty, in his MotoGP swan song. will try to hold on to his single point lead over Aprilia’s Alvaro Bautista in the fight for 12th place.

Random Thought 

I have a thought that needs airing out.  It may not be new, but it goes like this:  Marquez, since clinching in Motegi, still wants to win and has attacked the last two races hard, but has crashed out of each.  He had podium written all over him until he went down.  This illustrates the subconscious effect mindset (between fighting for a title and playing out the string) has on one’s focus, judgment and even balance.  Had he been in the midst of a title fight, I have no doubt he would have kept the bikes up.

While I’m at it, I’ve had a second thought for a while.  About how much fun it would be to listen to a digital recording from the inside of Valentino Rossi’s helmet during a race.  45 minutes of yelling, cursing, grunting, praying, and more cursing, all at high speed and pitch and, best of all, in Italian, so all you would understand is the names of the riders toward whom the invective is directed.  Not sure what the F*word is in Italian (cazzo, actually), but I bet you would hear it in the recording once or twice.  Possibly directed at Lorenzo’s mother.

What the heck.  Dani Pedrosa, should he fulfill his final two-year contract with Honda, would become the Spanish Loris Capirossi.  Long, distinguished careers without a single MotoGP championship.  All that meat and no potatoes.  And is it possible he might actually forego his final contract and call it a career, clearing the way for a Crutchlow vs. Miller tussle for the second Repsol seat?  The fact that he will be in Valencia this weekend makes that notion doubtful.

Your Season Ending Weekend Forecast

The weather forecast for greater Valencia this weekend calls for mostly clear skies and temps in the low 70’s.  The 2016 war being over, there is one last battle to be fought on Sunday.  With so few of the riders having any skin left in the game, this one will be for bragging rights only.  With the exception of Marquez, Rossi, Vinales and Pol Espargaro, many of the top ten are vulnerable to a drop in the standings, while some still have an opportunity to profit.  For instance, if Pedrosa is unable to post for the start, Cal Crutchlow is likely to nab sixth place for the season.  Great.

As to the results to come, I like Rossi this weekend.  Guy still has a chip on his shoulder and is still fast.  Marquez will compete for the win just for fun.  Lorenzo says he wants a finish to his Yamaha tenure he can be proud of.  Pedrosa will be in no shape to win but will still show up.  The rest of the fast movers—the Dueling Andreas, Crutchlow, Vinales—are always up for a podium chase.  My picks for the weekend?  Rossi, Vinales and Lorenzo.  Yamaha ends it’s losing streak, Vinales primps for his big boy debut next season, the podium celebration is as awkward as possible, and Lorenzo leaves team Yamaha with his head held high.

Next year starts on Tuesday.

This Just In

I am traveling most of Sunday.  The Valencia race results will post on Monday morning.  Thanks for your patience, real or imagined.  Ciao.