The opinions expressed by Mr. Allen do not reflect the views of the editorial staff here at Motorcycle.com. In fact, we would be surprised if they reflect the views of anyone remotely familiar with the sport.
Grand prix motorcycle racing – MotoGP to aficionados – is a Eurocentric parlor game for the rich and not-so-famous. It involves undersized riders holding on for dear life to 1000cc bikes with astonishing power-to-weight ratios on road courses at venues on four continents, several of which are in countries one is not anxious to visit. It is almost impossible to find on American television. Riders receive trophies for finishing third. It is the little brother of F1. It is NASCAR’s mentally challenged foreign cousin.
However, for the few of you still reading, at its best, MotoGP is the best racing on the planet, a series of hair-raising encounters between riders and machines traveling at well over 100 mph in unbanked turns, separated by inches, with the difference between winning and not winning often measured in a few thousandths of a second. (By comparison, the autonomic blink of an eye takes around 100 milliseconds.)
These guys are fast. Ridiculously fast. Incomprehensibly fast. The engines on the big bikes retail for around a million dollars per, rotate at, like, 17,000 rpm, and are built to tolerances that defy description, at least with the few words in my vocabulary. The noise they make is equally difficult to describe, resembling, in my mind, the sound a nuclear-powered pencil sharpener might make.
Round One of 2023 lifts off this weekend in Portimao, Portugal. Let the games begin.
A Look Back at 2022
2022 was the year Italy completed a hostile takeover of the premier class. Italian manufacturer Ducati Corse won its first world championship since 2007. An Italian rider, Francesco (Pecco) Bagnaia, won it all for the first time since the legendary Valentino Rossi in 2009. Ducati won the constructor’s title for the third consecutive year, in part because they had more bikes on the grid – eight out of 24 – than any other builder, placing five of them in the top nine. Bagnaia, left for dead in mid-season, trailing defending champion Fabio Quartararo by 91 points, mounted the largest comeback in history for the title, sealed at the season finale in Valencia. It was the most competitive, most compelling season in recent memory.
Moto2 is, in layman’s terms, the junior varsity in MotoGP. All the bikes are powered by 765cc Triumph Triples, with teams providing the rest of the components from various manufacturers. Spaniard Augusto Fernandez took the 2022 championship in Austrian monolith KTM colors, ahead of Japanese rider Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Asia team) and Spaniard Aron Canet (Flexbox HP40 team). Fernandez was exceptionally strong in mid-season, at one point winning four races out of six. Ogura, his main challenger during the final two months, choked at season’s end, scoring five (5) points over the final three rounds. Fernandez was the only Moto2 rider rewarded with a promotion to MotoGP for 2023. He will ride for the #2 KTM (GasGas) team, ensuring a second division finish.
I forgot to mention Pedro Acosta, the young Spanish fast mover who will, according to my forthcoming prediction, take the Moto2 title in 2023 and graduate to MotoGP in 2024 where he will soon become A Force to be Reckoned With.
Torturing the analogy, Moto3 is, like, the MotoGP freshman team, although the 250cc bikes are fast and loud. Lap times are a few seconds slower than Moto2, which are, in turn, a few seconds slower than the premier class MotoGP bikes. Moto3 is annually populated by a cadre of upwardly mobile teenagers and a roughly equal number of grizzled veterans who have embraced The Peter Principle and who will never see the saddle of a MotoGP machine. The 2022 title was won by Spanish teenager and rising KTM star Izan Guevara, who will turn 19 this coming June. The Next Great Spanish Rider soundly beat teenaged teammate and countryman Sergio Garcia and Italian Dennis Foggia (Honda) for the title. All three were promoted to Moto2 at season’s end.
2022 Moto3 rookies who had notable seasons include Daniel Holgado, who turns 18 in April, and my personal favorite, David Muñoz, who will turn 17 this year and may be the Next Next Great Spanish Rider.
Premier Class Teams and Riders
For 2023, moto-social Darwinism and economic constraints reduced the number of teams from 12 to 11 and, accordingly, the number of riders from 24 to 22. The riders and teams play musical chairs every year in MotoGP. A few get promoted from the underclasses, others change teams, seeking greener pastures, and the dregs get consigned to the rubbish heap. This year, mixing metaphors, the deck was re-shuffled more than usual due to the demise of the factory Suzuki team. And while only one rider, Augusto Fernandez, had his ticket punched from Moto2 into MotoGP, a larger number than usual headed for the other side of the hill, as follows:
Yamaha shut down their hopeless satellite team and Aprilia added a hopeful one. Yamahan Darryn Binder was shown the door, while Andrea Dovizioso retired. Aprilia recruited former KTM pilots Raul Fernandez and Miguel Oliveira, to rep their new #2 team. The two riders’ prospects appear to have improved with the switch. Aprilia, having recovered from the loss of Gigi Dall’Igna to Ducati ten years ago, is an ascendant program of late.
Rookie Augusto Fernandez will team up with veteran Pol Espargaro, late of the factory Repsol Honda team, on the #2 (KTM) Tech 3 GasGas team, under the careful supervision of jovial French guy (pronounced ghee) Herve Poncharal. Aussie Remy Gardner was advised he was “insufficiently professional” (read: insufficiently Spanish or Italian) and made his way, with a pocketful of sour grapes, to the tacitly less professional World Superbike championship series.
Joan Mir, 2020 World Champion with a couple of asterisks, was left without a seat when Suzuki folded its tent and chose to join the Repsol Honda team alongside Marc Marquez. Exhibiting questionable decision-making skills, this compares to an infant leaving a comfortable bassinet, complete with mother’s milk, to ride alongside Mad Max in the Thunderdome. Former teammate Alex Rins, also revealing impaired judgment, moved on from the comfort of the smooth-riding Suzuki to LCR Honda, whose version of the RC213V is as difficult to ride as the Repsol bikes but slower. His teammate there will be Mr. Cellophane, Takaa Nakagami. It promises to be a long year for Mir and Rins. It is always a long year for Nakagami.
Australian veteran Jack Miller, realizing his own pedigree was insufficiently Italian, chose to leave the factory Ducati team on his terms rather than theirs, and landed squarely on the factory KTM team, joining skeletal South African mercenary Brad Binder on the only entirely Anglo team on the grid. Miller’s initial bubbly optimism about the move lasted until the first test in Sepang. Such is life.
In a classic MotoGP three-way, once Miller vacated the factory Ducati crew, Enea Bastiannini got promoted from Gresini Ducati to replace him alongside world champion Pecco Bagnaia, and Alex Marquez escaped from LCR to Gresini, where it is thought, at least here, he will scout the Ducati ecosystem as an advance man for his brother Marc, who has only so many years left to await Honda’s return to respectability. Alex will be welcomed by returning Gresini up-and-comer Fabio de Giannantonio, who is single handedly causing a shortage of lower-case Ns amongst the journalists covering the sport. (We decided last season to refer to him as FDG to conserve consonants.)
The remaining four teams made no changes in their rider lineup this season. Aprilia #1 with a resurgent Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro. The hobbled Yamaha team of Fabulous Quartararo and an enigmatic Frankie Morbidelli. Rossi’s Mooney VR46 Ducati team with Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi, and Pramac Ducati with whiz kid Jorge Martin and aging Frenchman Johann Zarco. If I had to make a prediction for 2024, I would expect Morbidelli and Zarco to exit the premier class stage after this year, followed soon thereafter by Aleix.
Sprint Races? C’mon, Man
In the face of declining fan interest in the sport, The Powers That Be decided to put on flattering imitations of the sprint races found in World Superbike and, on occasion, F1. Essentially, these will be half-length tilts run on Saturdays in the place of the execrable FP4 sessions. In the past, cumulative fast times in the first three practice sessions determined which 10 riders would pass automatically into the QP2 pole shootout, with the remnant having to slug it out in QP1 for the top two slots which would then pass GO into QP2. As of 2023, these determinations will occur after FP2, throwing a real sense of urgency into Fridays. That’s the good news. The results from QP1 and 2 will determine starting positions for both the sprints and the full distance races on Sundays.
This year, the last event on Saturdays will be premier class sprint races. The top eight finishers will score points – 9, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – while the other 14 will put hours on their engines and chew up a set of tires. No changes have been made in engine allocations, despite the fact that the number of race laps the engines will have to complete will increase by half. Look for penalties to be assessed late in the season as teams run out of operational engines.
While the fans, at least those still sober at 3 pm, will get to see riders competing in anger on Saturdays, the pilots and crews will pay the price, especially in the autoclaves of Thailand, Malaysia, India and Indonesia. (I’m torn between using “autoclave” and “blast furnace” to depict the hellish conditions in these places.) The older riders – notably the Espargaro brothers and Zarco – will suffer more, despite the chilling effect of 200 mph headwinds. And nobody gives a hoot about the brolly girls and what they will have to endure, in full pancake makeup and leather trousers.
Personally, I get the feeling that the sprint races, as currently configured, will be a full-blown cluster, most notably in October, with three races in three weeks, including Indonesia and Thailand. I also get the feeling, for the record, that the Indian Grand Prix will not make it onto the final calendar due to construction issues, that the 21- round season will eventually be reduced to 20. Just sayin’.
The Big Questions: Will Borat Attend the Kazakhstan Grand Prix? And Where Can We Find His Sister?
One has to be a moron to try to predict the eventual 2023 MotoGP standings when there’s still snow on the ground. Undeterred, and using my proprietary and well-worn SWAG (Sophisticated Wild Ass Guess) predictive software, here goes:
Pecco Bagnaia. A formidable combination – the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo on the best bike on Earth, the 2023 title is his to lose.
Enea Bastiannini. Young, smooth, easy on tires and fearless. The teammates appear ready to dominate the season the way Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello did F1 in 2002.
Marc Marquez. #93 is, for the moment, 100% healthy. Despite being stuck with the crappy Honda RC213V, he will finish the year on the podium. At age 30, his days of dominance are numbered. But, as Nick Harris used to say about Valentino Rossi, “Ignore him at your peril.”
Maverick Viñales. Going out on a limb here, Pop Gun showed a few flashes of his old form last year, and the Aprilia has become a credible contender. He will finish ahead of aging, arm-pumping teammate Aleix Espargaro.
Fabio Quartararo. As gifted as Fabulous is, the Yamaha doesn’t appear yet to provide him with enough grunt to compete for a championship. This is his final contract with the Iwata factory. As for the rest of the field, I’ll just let the software do the predicting:
Fabio di Giannantonio
And the 2023 Winner Is…
Moto3: Jaume Masia
Moto2: Pedro Acosta
MotoGP: Pecco Bagnaia
For Those of You Who Think I Don’t Know What I’m Talking About
No argument here. You will find more informative articles on any number of other sites. We’re willing to settle for cheap laughs, mostly at the expense of the authority figures in a sport that seems to take itself way too seriously. Most of you reading this drivel are riders who view the statement, “I want to grow up and be a motorcycle rider” as a choice. The punchline is you can’t do both. Having made your decisions, I’m here to give you the opportunity to engage in civil discourse. Reader engagement is the currency of life on the web. We hope you will take the time to share your opinions without dropping a lot of F-bombs, as we jealously protect our PG-13 rating.
I will post results from each of the 21 rounds this year at Late-Braking MotoGP (www.motogpfordummies.com). Keep the shiny side up.
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