Welcome, everyone, to the 2017 presentation of MotoGP, The Greatest Show on Earth now that the circus has folded. The first year of six manufacturers, three of which have an honest shot at the title. And the year fans will likely remember not for the debut of an upstart KTM team, but for the introduction of Yamaha’s Apparent Next Great Modern Rider, Maverick Viñales, to polite society.

2017 MotoGP Season Preview

Of course, it is way early to lay this title on him. Call me a frontrunner. Viñales completed his demolition of the off-season tests by casually finishing first in Qatar. He, Andrea Dovizioso and, surprisingly, Dani Pedrosa have been the only contenders not having visible or audible (read: complaining) problems adjusting to this year’s machines. Seems I may have been premature suggesting Dani Pedrosa is vectoring down, if one ignores the fact that he gets hurt every year. Honda’s decision to develop their new big bang engine has coincided with Viñales’ sudden arrival on the M1, putting defending champion Marc Marquez’s title in jeopardy. Marquez crashed three times on Sunday in the final Qatar test meanwhile Pedrosa (and Cal Crutchlow) seem to be adjusting just fine.

Marc Marquez crashed three times in the final day of testing. One of those crashes occurred while trying a new fairing design.

Then there’s €46 Valentino Rossi, reminiscent of Mario Andretti in his later years at the Indy 500, “slowing down” in the back straight. He is not a contender right now, entering the 2017 season. But Rossi defines the expression “a guy who shows up on Sunday.” He will contend, as the season grinds away, unless he gets overly aggressive early in the year and gives away points sliding through the kitty litter.

Former teammate Jorge Lorenzo’s switch to Ducati has been predictably difficult, but, like Rossi, he’s an Alien, capable of wondrous things on two wheels. Some people will take offense when I point out that Rossi has been seeking his 10th world championship since 2010. He would probably do better on a one year contract – now or never. Win or bin. Etc.

Jorge Lorenzo will be under heavy scrutiny this season after jump from Yamaha to Ducati.

In 2015, defending champ Marc Marquez failed to repeat. In 2016, defending champ Jorge Lorenzo failed to repeat. If Marquez is destined to lose his title this season, most people assume it will be to Viñales. As a fan, I am looking forward to those two giving us a show every time out. With four years in the saddle, I like Marquez to repeat. He will ride an inferior bike to the title over Viñales because young Maverick is going to get overly excited. Just like rookie Lorenzo in 2008. You and I know what happens when that occurs.

Keeping them honest, you’ve got your Crutchlow, your Dovizioso, your Iannone, your Bautista (?!), and this Jonas Folger fella, who, alongside teammate Johann Zarco, have set themselves up as the top Moto2 grads thus far, on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team. I wish Folger well and drop the phrase “flash in the pan” only for its descriptive value. Alex Rins, I feel, belongs in the top ten. The rest of the field will all find something to brag about. “Hey, so we ran 10th at San Marino, y’know, which isn’t so terribly bad for a brand-new team.” Kidding, kidding. (All the Aliens must have crashed out.)

Pol Espargaro and teammate Bradley Smith went from Tech 3’s Monster Energy Green to Red Bull-backed KTM Orange.

Recent History at Losail

Back in 2014, everyone was all whooped up about Marc Marquez, who, as a rookie in 2013, had imposed his will upon the field, taken advantage of injuries to Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, and stormed to the title in front of a delirious crowd at Valencia in November. Among the records he would establish in 2014 were most wins in a season, youngest rider to repeat as world champion, and the most poles.

A win under the lights in Qatar kicked off Marc Marquez’s impressive run of 10 consecutive victories to start the 2014 season.

A mere six weeks after breaking his leg in the pre-season, Marquez barely held off a resurgent Rossi for the season-opening win, with Pedrosa sneaking onto the podium in third place. Double world champion Lorenzo, who had been singing the blues for months, crashed out of the lead on Lap 1 and subsequently faced an uphill struggle the entire season.

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 of a second to take the lead in the title chase for the first time since, well, 2010. Marquez got pushed way wide into the gravel on Lap 1, ultimately finishing fifth.

The 2015 season began in promising fashion for Valentino Rossi with a win at Losail. Fortunes turned near the end of the season however, highlighted his controversial run-in with Marc Marquez that resulted in Rossi starting from the back of the grid in a finale at Valencia.

Both factory Ducatis ended up on the all-Italian podium, leading to grossly overinflated expectations for Maniac Joe Iannone and a persistent golden halo resting upon the brow of one Gigi Dall’Igna. Here’s my favorite bit from the 2015 post mortem: “(Cal) had taken time out of his busy schedule, during a TV interview, to flame Mike di Meglio of Avintia Racing for getting in his way during, like, FP1. Cal has morphed from one of the charming, likable hard-luck guys on the grid to another mid-level clanging gong, and needs to take a nap.” Lorenzo finished a disappointing fourth that night.

Yamaha must have known 2016 would be Jorge Lorenzo’s last year with the team. Coming off his third world championship in 2015, he had won that year’s opener, enhancing the swagger amongst his declining number of fans, who believed a fourth title might be in the offing in 2016.

Jorge Lorenzo started last season strong with five podiums in the first six rounds.

Last year’s 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 had been 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, the wager that nine different riders would ultimately win races that year would have seemed deranged.

And So Here We Are

Alex Marquez – yes, there’s another one – is a contender for the Moto2 class.

At the dawn of another testosterone-pumping MotoGP season, there is optimism everywhere. The first formal practices of the year loom under the eerie spotlights in the desert. For all three classes. Moto3 and Moto2 both promise tons of effervescent wheel-to-wheel stuff, the numbers and aggressiveness of the riders well above the relatively staid comportment, and smaller grids, of the premier class.

With four of its top riders having graduated to the majors, Moto2 appears to be wide open, with the likes of veteran Thomas Luthi and… gasp… Alex Marquez having encouraging off-seasons. There is a surfeit of fast young Italian riders out there, some affiliated with Rossi’s SKY Racing Team VR46, some not. Malaysians are getting very excited about the prospects for their boy Hafizh Syahrin, who managed a respectable ninth place finish last season and has podium ambitions. (This is a shout out to the Malaysian National Board of Tourism, which paid for my junket to Sepang in 2014, and for whom I failed to produce the somewhat flowery article requested, in exchange, by The Government.)

Valentino Rossi’s VR46 squad is prepared to take on the Moto2 and Moto3 classes by storm.

Moto3 is simply too much for me. I love to watch the races but am so unfamiliar with the riders I can’t generate sufficient comedic material to obscure my lack of insight. Since 2008 I’ve picked up enough about the premier class to more or less keep up, but Moto3 reminds me of the Rat Races they used to hold every year at an American Legion hall in Covington, Kentucky, where you could hardly tell one little racer from another, them piling on top of one another in the corners, occasionally heading the wrong way and such. Lots of yelling, parimutuel-style betting and heavy drinking, all for a good cause. Moto3 is great fun, but I’m mostly just a spectator.

Sunday Night—S—U—N—D—A—Y!!!

Sounds like it should be dragsters. At Losail, more than any other race of the season, practice sessions and qualifying runs are closely watched and competed, bikes being raced in real anger for the first time since November. In conditions resembling a moonscape, with two-wheeled missiles between their legs, these guys will go at it for real. Again. Qualifying will tell much of the story. I am unwilling to try to predict a race winner, as Qatar has become a true outlier. Over the past four seasons, only one race winner here has won the title – Marquez in 2014.

Expectations are high for Maverick Vinales and his off-season tests suggests he’s up for the task.

I am willing to predict that, as the red lights go out, the front row will consist of Marquez, Viñales, and Dovizioso, in whatever order you like.

OK. Viñales, by less than two seconds over Marquez.

FINE – Crutchlow third. Just don’t bet on it. The race goes off at 2 pm EST Sunday. We will post results and analysis as soon as humanly possible. Let’s start this party.

  • Old MOron

    At last!
    Turn on the lights. Fire up the bikes. Let’s go!

    I have to think that Vale will find something. He has to. He always does, right around Sunday morning. But this should be a fantastic weekend in any case – even if Mav and Marc run away from the rest of the field. There should be raging battles all over the track.

    As for Moto 3, how about the return of Naughty Fenati? He’s on a Honda now. Does he hold a grudge against the VR46 squad? Will he trip their kill switches? Will Wooly Bully Bulega deliver on his potential? Will the Beast Bastianini win it in wild man style? Will Goldilocks Darryn Binder fill his older brother’s shoes?

    Woo-hoo, let’s go!

    • AM

      Find what? Ways to cut the track or pushing riders out of the track?
      Or maybe running people over with a scooter and not apologizing?
      What he’s going to find is that he will not do a thing again. And that is 8 years. Yeah that’s what he’s shooting for 10 years of GP racing without any results, because his luck is out. Talent showed up at the track 7 years ago, which was not the case before in all years he won and since then, who’s is he? What has he done? Oh do not forget what his incredible talent did at Ducati….. Rossi who???

      • denchung

        Rossi is on the tail end of his career but finishing second overall for the last three years is no small feat.

      • BDan75

        Spoken like a true moron. And I don’t mean that in the context typically used on this website…

      • Old MOron

        Ha ha ha, I don’t suppose “AM” stands for Alex Marquez?

      • Bruce Allen

        Dude, how do you really feel? You are probably right, but give the devil his due.

      • Born to Ride

        I guess being a title contender in a sport populated with athletes 10 years your junior is nothing. That’s like saying B-Hop was a washed up hack for losing by decision to Kovalev at 50 years old. The fact that he is still regularly on the podium is a testament to his sheer will and talent. Marquez has shown us that he can ride the piss out of one bike, with a complete inability to adapt to any other machine. Was he not still running his 2014 chassis last year? His string of crashes with the new machine indicates that he may not be as universally talented as his fanboys believe him to be. Also the Ducati was a vastly inferior bike during that period, I doubt even Casey Stoner could have won anything other than phillip island on that heap of garbage.

        • Gruf Rude

          Rossi’s longevity in a young man’s sport speaks for itself. He is one of the greatest. I have noticed, however, that Marquez seems to do his crashing in testing and practice and stays upright during races. I suspect he pushes very heard to find limits and then respects those limits when it counts. Honda doesn’t appear to build easy-to-ride bikes. It will be interesting to watch the season (and the bikes) develop).

        • Bruce Allen

          I remember as a young man having an old wood-shafted seven iron that would outhit anything on the market. Wouldn’t it be cool if Marquez kept the 2014 chassis for the rest of his Honda years?

          • Born to Ride

            I actually hoped he would. Sometimes you just get it right the first time.

      • Vrooom

        You are so right, after all, in 2008 he was racing has beens like Casey Stoner, Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Dovi, etc., people you’ve never heard of so his victory doesn’t count. Or guys like Bayliss, Gibernau, Biaggi, Checa, Capirossi, etc before that and prevailing. People who never did anything worth remembering in GP. You’re nuts.

      • spiff

        Can I get a Go Rossi!!! End transmission. 🙂

      • mugwump

        ABR

  • Gruf Rude

    I miss Bridgestone tires. Michelin has been a lot like a local restaurant here in town; reasonably good but inconsistent with an occasional real clinker. I suspect whoever can regularly save enough tire for the last 3 or 4 laps will contend for the championship.

    • Bruce Allen

      Good to hear from you. I think Michelin will be the bomb in a year or two. They are throwing major resources at this program. I don’t hear a lot of chatter about the tires the way I remember when Bridgestone took over back in whenever, and which continued through Phillip Island in 2015. The answer, of course, is to use Michelin rears and Bridgestone fronts. Or the other way around.

  • Starmag

    Qatar sure is an absurd place for a Motogp race. I have a lot of natural gas also, do I get my own race?

    • Old MOron

      No, but you probably get your own seating section!

    • Bruce Allen

      If you’ve ever listened to an old 60’s humor group called Firesign Theatre, they had a bit where a guy was checking out the climate control feature on his spiffy new car. “Say, this is great. “Sea Breeze.” “Tropical Paradise.” “Dust Storm”…Where else on the calendar can you get wind, rain an sand in sufficient quantity to scrub FP4 and Qualifying? I agree with you, especially with at least four other countries banging on the door. Go to Thailand in March. Screw the desert.

  • JMDGT

    Go Rossi! Here’s to an entertaining safe season for all the teams and riders. New teams old teams young guys old guys. The best racing on the planet. See you in Austin bitches.

  • john burns

    good picks, Bruce. Maverick seems like he is not to be denied… will Lorenzo be in Top 10? Will the Maniac take him out?

  • spiff

    You nailed Bruce, especially Rossi. He shows up Sunday. I think Vinales will show that the Suzuki years were him finding his place, and this year he is going to make Lorenzo qustion why he left blue.

    I also hope you are wrong about 3 contending manufacturers. I think Suzuki is there, or were you counting them and not the Duck?

    • Bruce Allen

      I originally had four contending, then edited myself down to three. I just think Suzuki isn’t yet over the hump. And Iannone doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to it so far.

      • spiff

        So does he alter his riding more or does the team change the bike? Same question towards Lorenzo? I wonder if the Ducatis will improve with the areodynamics?

        • Bruce Allen

          I think Iannone would give up some handling for more grunt. Didn’t think it was a great fit then, don’t think it’s a great fit now. And Ducati has developed the most creative non-wings of anyone. Aprilia said to be copying them. Marquez was having problems with his new aeros.

          • Old MOron

            Ducati may have developed the biggest, ugliest non-wings, but I’m not sure I’d call them the most creative. From what I’ve read, I think Yamaha’s solution uses movable vanes between the inner and outer fairing. If these vanes are movable, ie they can be tuned, that would seem more creative than Ducati’s fixed solution.

          • spiff

            Interesting, they can change the direction of down force for the corners.

          • Bruce Allen

            That’s been the missing ingredient all along. I think Spiff (or maybe Dave Emmett) suggested last year that the fixed wings seemed to be contributing to some lowside crashes, that the aeros in steep lean angles actually made the bikes lose speed in the corners. You guys are ON THIS STUFF.

  • gjw1992

    Great. Now, 2pm in English ( 🙂 ) – 7pm as we’ll just be on bst by then

    • Bruce Allen

      Stay up late!

  • Andrew Horton

    I wish that was funny

  • Vrooom

    Welcome back Bruce, we miss your posts as much as the GP season. OK, almost as much. Vinales is a good pick for this weekend. I have to think Marquez is in the mix if he isn’t too sore from his get offs in testing (he never seems to be), I’m going with Rossi rounding out the podium. I see Lorenzo down around the 8-10 spot, Dovi will be top 5. I think the Maniac will get used to the Suzuki, but it may take a few races. KTM doesn’t leave the basement.

  • Old MOron

    I can’t wait for tomorrow (all times PDT):
    Moto3 Free Practice Nr. 1 08:00-08:40
    Moto2 Free Practice Nr. 1 08:55-09:40
    MotoGP Free Practice Nr. 1 09:55-10:40
    Moto3 Free Practice Nr. 2 10:55-11:35
    Moto2 Free Practice Nr. 2 11:50-12:35

  • Kos

    This year is a tough one to call, which makes the viewing and reading all the more fun. Hoping it won’t turn into a runaway for anybody.

    Next year, methinks both Vinales and Suzuki will be “over the hump” and win the whole thing by more than a few points.

    You heard it here first.

    • Bruce Allen

      Dude.

      • Kos

        My fingers typed Suzuki, which was not what I told them to do….aaaarrrrggghhhh.

  • spiff

    As they develop the 17 bike I think things will go back to normal, but I am digging how mixed up the order is now.

    Prediction: Folgers gets Rossi’s bike when he is done with it. Other option is Suzuki, or KTM if they get fast enough. He deserves a factory effort.

    • Bruce Allen

      Too soon for “Folgers”. Let’s see him podium a few times, become the top rookie, and see how he does at the unfriendly layouts of Austin and Argentina.

      • spiff

        But this is probably as close as the bikes are going to be. The factory bikes are going get better and better. Do you think Tech3 can improve the bike they have?

        • Bruce Allen

          Apparently the Tech 3 bike is just fine. Johann probably lost focus when it occurred to him that he was leading a MotoGP race.

  • Gruf Rude

    Waiting for the start of the MotoGP race, it appears that Climate Change is the newest participant on the grid.

    • Old MOron

      What do you think? Worth the wait? I’m so bummed that Zarco and the Maniac Joe crashed out. How about Cal crashing twice for good measure?

      • Gruf Rude

        Worth the wait. Bummed that Zarco crashed. I expected Iannone to crash; I was ecstatic that he didn’t take any of the other contenders out with him. The ridiculous weather combined with Honda’s lack of balance and Michelin’s wimpy front tire kept Marquez from the podium, but even with his desire to override the Honda’s limits, he kept it on the wheels for points. Rossi continues to show up on Sunday, despite his approaching senility.