It’s now August. Pecco Bagnaia leads a bevy of Ducati Desmos in the 2023 title chase; no surprise there. Brad Binder being the top non-Ducati challenger surprises me, but perhaps not you. All-time track records are, once again this season, getting clobbered. But the rate of attrition amongst the contestants is truly frightening.
Greetings from the Isle of Man, where I am bathing in unprecedented warmth and sunshine for the 2023 TT races, my 14th trip to this remarkable event. Qualifying week has seen immaculate conditions. Michael Dunlop, Dean Harrison and Peter Hickman are all turning 134 mph laps (UPDATE: Dunlop has now set an unofficial lap record of 135.531 mph during the last day of Superbike qualifying! -Ed.). Hickman hit an unprecedented 202.3 mph at the Sulby speed trap. Dunlop has unofficially smashed his own SuperTwin lap record by five seconds, and the sidecars are hitting nearly 120 mph per lap. In practice sessions! It is going to be a mega- TT, and you should subscribe to TT+ streaming.
2018 will go down in Bologna, Italy as the first year Ducati recorded MotoGP wins at both Mugello and Misano. As expected, the contest quickly devolved into another Marquez vs. Desmosedici doubleteam, #93 spending a solid part of the day cruising in third. When Jorge Lorenzo stunned the 97,000 fans by sliding out of second place on Lap 26, Marc Marquez glommed onto the second step of the podium and added another crushing 8 points to his 2018 lead. When you can win while losing, you are The Man.
The last three iterations of what used to be known as the Misano round in MotoGP have found factory Honda riders standing on the top step of the podium: Marc Marquez in 2015 and 2017 and Dani Pedrosa in 2016. The first was a rare double flag-to-flag affair, the second dry, the third wet. The conditions do not appear to matter. Can showman Valentino Rossi stiff-arm Marquez and find a way to put on a late-career memory-maker in front of his homeys? The bells of Tavullia beckon.
For the third year in a row, MotoGP riders have tried to dislodge Ducati Corse from the pronounced advantage they enjoy here in Austria. In 2016, it was Yamaha icon Jorge Lorenzo who failed to flag down Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso. Last year, it was Honda’s Marc Marquez trying valiantly and ultimately failing to overtake winner Dovizioso. Today, it was Marquez losing again by a tenth, this time to Lorenzo, in a last lap duel that was entertaining, if not riveting.
Austria’s Red Bull Ring, home of this weekend’s eyetime Motorrad Grand Prix von Österreich, is the closest thing to the Bonneville Salt Flats of any track on the MotoGP calendar. For those riders, ahem, who have trouble getting their bikes to turn this place is like heaven. The weekend looks like it’s going to be a Ducati clambake, but looks can be deceiving.
15 years ago, if you happened to find yourself in the lead late in a MotoGP race, the last person you wanted materializing on your rear tire was #46, Valentino Rossi. That was, at the time, a portent of almost certain doom – for you – as Rossi was king of the jungle, until impudents like Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo came along. Today, the guy you don’t want to see bearing down on you is Marc Marquez, all hunkered down on his Honda RC213V to where you can barely tell where he stops and the bike starts. Turning laps four tenths faster than you, with plenty of tire left.
If your name is not Marc Marquez, Round Nine of the 2018 MotoGP championship at the legendary Sachsenring in eastern Germany could not arrive at a worse moment. Bad enough that he put his hands on the throat of the 2018 title last time out in Assen, inserting 41 points between himself and Valentino Rossi, but to do so on the way to Germany, where he hasn’t lost since, like, grade school, is a little much, if you ask me.
The Cathedral of Speed gave the 105,000 crazed Dutch fans in attendance a memorable liturgy today – the most closely grouped top 15 in MotoGP history, 16 seconds separating the lot. The action at the front – six different riders led at one point or other – was so intense it reduced the announcers to mere stuttering and grunting during the last three laps, panties in a full twist. At the end, the incomparable Marc Marquez put his stamp on a signature win, one of his best ever.
With the 2018 season a third gone, the presumption that Marc Marquez would ease into his fifth premier class title in six years has become passé. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, Jorge Lorenzo has given us convincing wins at Mugello and Montmelo. Whether this is a two-off or the start of a trend could be revealed this weekend.
The Existing World Order in MotoGP remained intact on Sunday in Barcelona. A resurrected Jorge Lorenzo won his second race in a row, from pole no less. He has shuffled the tranches more than he has the standings, as the riders look ahead to The Cathedral at Assen.
With Yamaha having dominated the proceedings in France for the past few years, many fans, especially those with French accents, expected Johann Zarco to waltz into racing history today, starting from pole with those dreamy eyes. Alas, his unforced error on Lap 9 landed him in the gravel. Andrea Dovizioso’s “own goal” on Lap 6, crashing out of the lead, left the day to Marc Marquez. #93 enjoyed a walk in the park on his way to a 36-point lead in the 2018 championship race.
The 30th running of the Grand Prix de France at Le Mans – Round 5, for those of you keeping score at home – arrives at a critical time for the factory Yamaha team. Both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales have been struggling with the YZR-M1 this year, searching in vain for feeling in the front and grip in the rear. Le Mans has been très Yamaha-friendly of late, M1s having gone three-for-three since 2015. Sunday would be a really good time for a replay.
With but eight points separating the top five riders, MotoGP storms into Jerez on fire, happy to be back in Europe, the contenders looking for a little separation as Round Four is upon us. Jerez is one of those beloved tracks – along with places like Mugello, Assen and Valencia – where riders aspire to join the great ones. With almost a dozen legitimate podium threats starting the race, of which only four have ever won here (in the premier class), the odds of a fifth rider from this grid finishing Sunday standing on the top step of the podium has never been better. Paging Cal Crutchlow.
The 2018 edition of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas will not be remembered as one of the best tilts of all time. Truthfully, it might not make the Top 100. But for defending world champion Marc Marquez, today’s walk in the park restored some order in the championship and washed away the ashes of Argentina. The series, picking up speed, now heads for Europe with the top five riders separated by eight points. Tight as tree bark.
Now that we’ve had 10 days to assess the Argentinian misadventure, a consensus seems to have formed around the BS being widely peddled by a petulant Valentino Rossi that Repsol Honda head case Marc Marquez should be put in front of an Italian firing squad and summarily executed. Marquez, it is true, may need to reconsider his approach to racing. This weekend could offer the opportunity he needs for a solitary retreat off by himself for a while, to ruminate on the sport and his place in it, and take the checkered flag when he’s done.
Today’s Gran Premio Motul de la República Argentina had something for every taste and budget, even after the laughable theft of the pole on Saturday. Wait-a-minute weather? Check. Chaotic, delayed start? Check. Seat-of-the-pants rulemaking? Check. Quadruple MotoGP world champion having a mental Mardi Gras? Check. Riveting finish that shakes up the world standings? Check. Satellite teams kicking posteriors? Check.
Right now would be a pretty good time to forget most everything you thought you learned two 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.
Before we got married, I took my wife to the stock car races at El Cajon Speedway, east of San Diego. It was kind of a test. I wanted to be sure she could handle my Southern, inbred hick-ness before signing on. This was back in the 1980s when there were still a lot of Chevelle-bodied cars running on America’s dirt ovals. In fact, it seemed like just about all the cars were Chevy Chevelles that night.
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 Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez for early bragging rights. Round One goes to the Italian on points. No TKO.
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 Viñales – is sharpening their fairings in anticipation. Another handful of riders dream of getting their tickets punched in 2018.
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), Marc 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.
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.
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 at Valencia, and is more likely to end with a whimper than a bang.
Those readers who can recall all the way back to last year will remember it as the year of nine winners. Some will recall it as a year Marc Marquez titled and eight other guys won races. 2017 will be remembered as the year Andrea Dovizioso got his Alien card punched and went looking for Marquez at crunch time, anxious to take on the Spanish wonderkid.
Once again MotoGP embarks on its annual Darwinian excursion through some of the world’s most exotic time zones for what is laughingly called The Pacific Swing. As if it were a square dance and not a grueling test of mettle and metal. One week at Honda’s glowing home crib, one on the windswept tundra of the south Australian coast, and one in the autoclave of Sepang. Can Honda’s Marc Marquez seize his fourth MotoGP title on this chaotic cruise, or will he leave things dangling for the Valencia finale?
Magnificent Marc Marquez put on a last lap for his career highlight reel in beating a plucky Danilo Petrucci and conservative Andrea Dovizioso to the flag in a wet Tribul Mastercard GP San Marino e Riviera di Rimini. In doing so, he rained on Ducati’s parade, tied series leader Dovizioso for the championship lead heading to Aragon, and reminded those of us who watch racing how exceptionally gifted he truly is.
On an idyllic Sunday afternoon in the British countryside, Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, in the midst of a dream season, won the British Grand Prix, pimping the factory Yamaha team at the flag. Disaster struck the Repsol Honda team on Lap 14 when Marc Marquez, fast and fighting for the lead, saw his engine, and series lead, go up in smoke. The championship heads to Misano in two weeks tighter than tree bark.
Round 11 of the 2017 MotoGP world championship will be remembered for the duel between Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and Repsol Honda icon Marc Marquez on the race’s last lap. By then, a lead group of six or seven riders had shrunk to just the two top riders in this year’s series. At a track seemingly designed for the Ducati, Dovi held off the best rider on Earth by a fraction of a second in a race people will be talking about for years.
The 2017 Czech Motorcycle Grand Prix, after much pre-race sturm und drang, turned out to be a fascinating six-lap race with a 16-lap warm down. Series leader Marc Marquez, with the best meteorologists of any crew, pitted at the end of Lap 2 and changed from soft rain tires to slicks before the thought occurred to many of his competitors. He summarily seized the lead on Lap 6 and never looked back.
MotoGP has been cleared for landing at historic Brno, nestled in the rolling Moravian region of the Czech Republic and host to the most widely-attended GP on the calendar. Five riders have formed the first group, tight as ticks, but the next two races favor the Yamahas and Ducatis. If Marc Marquez can hold serve this week and next, his chances of a title in 2017 will take a great leap forward. Chápeš? ¿Entiendes?
The Sachsenring (or Knockwurstring as it is sometimes referred to, by me) has been Marc Marquez’ personal playground for the past seven seasons. Make that eight, as the young Catalan survived some early challenges, patiently worked his way to the front, went through on Tech 3 Yamaha homeboy Jonas Folger midway through the race, and won going away.
So the MotoGP season leader at the turn, with over a month off to prepare for the demanding back nine of the calendar, will be decided at The (cramped, irritating) Sachsenring. Home of short straights and slow turns, not much fun compared to Assen’s short straights and fast turns. If the eastern German circuit is no one’s favorite today, it could become someone’s by Sunday night. Someone like, oh, I don’t know… maybe Marc Marquez???
With more passing than you’d see at an April 20 party, the 2017 Motul Assen TT was one of the more riveting races in recent memory. Tech 3 Yamaha rookie sensation Johann Zarco led the first 11 laps from pole. Meanwhile, Valentino Rossi and Ducati brute Danilo Petrucci were in the heart of the lead group along with Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda. But Rossi – fast, patient and strategic – managed to beat Petrucci to the flag by .06 seconds. They don’t call him The Doctor for nothing.
Even with the race going off on Sunday again for the second time, sixty-some years of racing on Saturday at the Cathedral have produced a number of curious finishes. Nicky Hayden had his first and only non-U.S. win here in 2006. Ben Spies won here in 2011 in what many of us mistakenly thought was the beginning of a great career. And Jack Miller’s win last year defines “unlikely.”
Okay, a handful of MO readers and Kevin Duke have wondered aloud when my next report from the 2017 Isle of Man TT would arrive. Did a tailless Manx cat eat my homework? No. What went down was seasonal-affective disorder – triggering weather, a mangled race schedule, and a surfeit of reasons to not submit columns about the pubs I was spending an inordinate amount of time in. The knock along effects of the wet, cold low-pressure bubble that enveloped the IoM turned the TT into a logistical challenge of epic proportions for race organizers, riders, and barkeeps. And forced visiting race fans and part-time pseudo journalists (I count myself in both categories) deep into the pubs, where the cask ale was fine but the stories unprintable. So, now safely back in hot, dry New Jersey, I’ll do my best to capture the TT scene belatedly.
After recording no wins between Donington Park 2009 and Sepang 2016, Du cati #1 rider Andrea Dovizioso has now taken two wins in eight days, recording superlative rides at both Mugello and now Montmelo. A few days before Mugello he pronounced the GP17 unwinnable in its current configuration. Gratifying to see his analytic skills are no better than mine.
The small fleet of 747s that is the MotoGP Moving & Storage Company lands this week in Barcelona for the second of four Spanish rounds. The track, recently reconfigured for safety reasons, has been roundly criticized by the riders as no longer fun or “MotoGP-worthy.” Blah blah blah. By the time Friday rolls around, every rider with a drop of Spanish blood in him will be banging on about the history of Montmelo and overflowing with optimism about his team’s prospects. Business as usual amongst the yachting class.
Sunday at magnificent Mugello was that rarest of days, when one gets to hear the Italian national anthem played three separate times. Italians placed 1-2 in a mind-bending Moto3 tilt. Italian heartthrob Franco Morbidelli didn’t win in Moto2 today, but beloved countryman Mattia Pasini did. In the main event, homeboys on Ducatis took the top and third steps on the podium.
Today at the 30th running of the French Grand Prix at Le Mans, youth triumphed over experience. Yamaha Top Gun Maverick Viñales withstood a classic last lap challenge brought by teammate and legend Valentino Rossi to capture Yamaha’s 500th grand prix win. The youngster ended his day on the top step of the podium, the grizzled veteran his prostrate in the gravel. Ten years ago, Rossi would have won this race. In 2017, the tide may be beginning to turn.
Fresh off his convincing win in Jerez, Repsol Honda mighty mite Dani Pedrosa has been reinstated in The Alien Club, looking relaxed, comfortable and fast on his RC213V. For the first time in five years, his name is coming up in conversations about who might take the 2017 title. Given his age, his panoply of surgical scars and generally lousy karma, I make him a longshot for the championship. But other than a few Americans with pathologically long memories, there are a number of fans who wouldn’t mind seeing Dani Pedrosa win a premier class title.
Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, looking like the 2012 version of himself, won today’s Spanish Grand Prix, leading wire to wire for his first win since Misano last year. Teammate and defending champion Marc Marquez gave chase for most of the race, but never seemed to have quite enough to mount a serious challenge to Pedrosa on one of those days…
The reversal of fortune in Austin, Repsol Honda’s Maximum Marc Marquez winning while young savant Maverick Viñales kissed the tarmac for the first time in Yamaha blue, has produced an early three-man race for the top of the 2017 heap. Valentino Rossi, teammate Viñales and Marquez now stand separated by 18 points with a lot of season left. Six races in the next eight weeks means the offshore shakedown cruises are over. There’s a title to be won. In Europe.
As the checkered flag fell in Argentina, the shape of the 2017 season changed. Suddenly, Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales and partner Valentino Rossi, the Boys in Blue, sit on top of the world looking down. Those looking up, WAY up, include defending champion Marc Marquez of Honda and the factory Ducati team, currently residing on the other side of the proverbial tracks. Marquez has never lost, deep in the heart of Texas, which makes Sunday’s contest what my wife (eyebrows raised) refers to as “critical?”
In a perfect world, Maverick Viñales and Marc Marquez, the two brightest young stars in the MotoGP firmament, would have squared off for a thrilling fight to the flag here at the Middle of Nowhere Grand Prix. Marquez, starting from pole, took the hole shot and led the field by almost two seconds when he carelessly lost the front in Turn 2 of Lap 4. Viñales, running second at the time, assumed the lead, laid down 21 1:40 or better laps, and won easily, hardly breaking a sweat.
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.
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.
With the start of the 2017 MotoGP season only weeks away, we turn to our trusted MotoGP Correspondent, Bruce Allen, still foolishly bucking for promotion, for a look ahead at what will be on offer for racing fans this year. The racing begins on March 26 in Qatar.