2016 Phillip Island Sunday Round Up: What is an Alien, Anyway? And Who Is One?

Is there such a thing as an Alien? The provenance of the term is uncertain, though most people believe that it was coined by Colin Edwards in 2009, after he kept finishing in fifth place behind Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa. Whatever he tried, he could not stay with them. "They are riding out of this world," he said.

The term has stuck. Since then, the term Alien has been applied to the top four riders, the only difference being that Marc Márquez has been swapped for Casey Stoner now that the Australian has retired. The reality is that since Jorge Lorenzo entered the class until the start of the 2016 season, the five MotoGP Aliens had accounted for all but two of the 143 MotoGP races held. The two non-Alien wins were by Andrea Dovizioso (Donington 2009) and Ben Spies (Assen 2011). Both of those races came in unusual conditions. The five Aliens dominated the podiums throughout that period as well.

2016 looks like becoming the year the Alien died. Or perhaps more realistically (and less dramatically) the year we had to readjust the concept of a MotoGP Alien. The season was going very much to plan up until Assen, when Jack Miller won an interrupted race in the driving rain. Then in Austria, Andrea Iannone finally did what everyone has been waiting for, won a race with a Ducati. Cal Crutchlow used a drying surface to his advantage to win at Brno, and then Maverick Viñales won at a dry but cold Silverstone. Questions were asked whether Maverick Viñales was the next Alien.

Epistemology attacks

In Australia, Cal Crutchlow blew the concept wide open. The LCR Honda rider won his second race this year, at a dry but cold Phillip Island, joining a very small but elite group of British riders to have won two or more races during a single season. Barry Sheene, Phil Read, Mike Hailwood, John Surtees, Geoff Duke, Leslie Graham. And now Cal Crutchlow.

Most previous winners had a question mark attached to their victories. Jack Miller won in the pouring rain, when others were either being cautious or crashing out. Iannone's victory at Austria was because the Red Bull Ring is basically three drag strips connected by first gear corners and a long central section. Crutchlow's first win came when he gambled on the right tires, choosing the hard wets where others chose soft wets, and had to pit for fresh rubber.

Only Maverick Viñales was given the benefit of the doubt, though he was not quite welcomed aboard the spacecraft. The Suzuki rider had beaten all of the current crop of Aliens in the dry at Silverstone, with no extenuating circumstances. The remaining question mark was the fact that it was just a single win for Viñales, as it had been for all the other non-Aliens who had won. If Viñales won another race, MotoGP watchers agreed, then he would be granted Alien status.

The eagerness of youth

Enter Cal Crutchlow, who has just thrown a spanner into the works. At Phillip Island, Crutchlow as fast in the wet and the dry, and only a mistake in FP3 saw the LCR Honda rider having to pass through Q1 to get to Q2. He did that with ease, and ended up qualifying on the front row, where he started alongside firm favorite Marc Márquez. Márquez had been ripping up the Australian track, and was expected to dance off into the distance, now that he had wrapped up the championship and could afford to ride without the worry of the title.

Márquez looked like making good on his promise, taking over the lead from a hard charging Pol Espargaro, who had got the holeshot from the front row. Márquez quickly opened a gap, but he never really started to disappear, his lead stalling at just under the three second mark. By that time, Crutchlow had made his way into second, after a dismal start saw him drop down the order to fifth. Crutchlow then started closing the gap on Márquez, taking first two tenths, then four tenths out of the Spaniard.

Could he have caught Márquez? The question would become moot, as the Repsol Honda rider crashed out of the lead at Turn 4, the aptly named Honda Hairpin. He misjudged his braking point, braked too late, and then tried to turn the bike in too hard. The hard front tire cried enough, and Márquez ended up in the gravel, leaving Crutchlow leading the race.

Deja vu averted

It also left him terrified. Memories of 2014 ran through his mind, when he had crashed out of a certain second place finish at exactly the same corner, in very similar conditions. Both Márquez and Crutchlow had chosen the hard front tire, which worked when the track temperatures were above 30°C, but with the sun coming and going, it was hard to be sure that temperature would be sustained. In 2014, the ambient temperature dropped by some 10°C in the space of 20 minutes, dropping it below the working temperature of Bridgestone's first attempt at asymmetric front tires. Crutchlow was one of the victims at Turn 4, falling on the very last lap. "If Marc had crashed at Turn 6, I would have thought nothing of it," Crutchlow said after the race. Turn 4 brought back memories, however.

"Marc crashed lap nine or something, so I spent the rest of the race thinking, this is a disaster!" Crutchlow said. He took extra care braking into that corner every lap, fearful of making the same mistake as Márquez. The loss of Márquez made it more difficult to concentrate, Crutchlow said, because after the Repsol Honda crashed, "I didn't know what to to do. I had a target, and then I had nothing."

Crutchlow's fears were mostly self-inflicted, after he had chosen the hard front tire. It had been a conscious choice, he said, in search of an advantage over the rest of the grid. Once Márquez chose the same tire, and then crashed out on it, it created doubt in his mind. He had tried to work the front tire to keep heat in it, pushing hard when the sun disappeared and the track cooled, taking it a little easier when the sun came back out again and the track warmed again. He knew he had to push hard to maintain his pace, but he wasn't sure that would last all race.

Striking the fear of GOAT into him

The appearance of Valentino Rossi's name on his pit board did nothing to remove such doubts. "I thought, surely he couldn't have come up from fifteenth?" Crutchlow said after the race. After a dismal qualifying, when he had not had any feeling with either the wet tires or the slicks in the cold and the wet on Saturday, Rossi had rediscovered his confidence in the dry warm up.

That confidence had grown as the sun shone in the race. He had sliced his way to the front in the first couple of laps, but once he reached second place, he could not make an impact on Crutchlow. If anything, Crutchlow's lead kept on growing. Rossi tried to up his pace, but he made a mistake in Honda Corner, running wide and losing over a second in a single lap. At that point, the race was over. Crutchlow came home to take his second MotoGP victory.

I can't believe it's not Alien

Does that make Crutchlow one of MotoGP's Aliens? It seems more reasonable to reassess the entire concept. Crutchlow clearly felt vindicated after winning in dry conditions. "It's nice to win one in the wet and dry because people think you can only win in the rain when you win a wet race," Crutchlow said. But this was very much a race which Crutchlow had picked out at the start of the season. "I targeted a few races this year and I said I wanted to do a good job and be on the podium at Brno and Silverstone and I did. Somebody asked me last week what I thought about going to Phillip Island and I said I planned to come and win and I don't think that they believed me," he said.

Targeting races is nothing new – just last week, Marc Márquez spoke of his strategy for 2016, of picking the races he could win and ensuring he scored enough points in the others to give him a shot at the title. But the current crop of Aliens all have in common that they have won at a lot of different tracks. Márquez has victories at every MotoGP track except Austria. Rossi is only missing Austin, Aragon, and Austria from his list of victories. Lorenzo has won everywhere except Argentina, Austin, Sachsenring, and Sepang. Pedrosa has won at 11 of the 18 tracks MotoGP visits.

So winning two races at two tracks in the same year in the wet and the dry is an incredible achievement, and proof that Crutchlow is an incredibly talented rider. It also shows that the spec electronics and new tires have shaken up the field and opened up opportunities beyond the factory Yamaha and Honda teams. To put that in some kind of context, since the Sachsenring, Marc Márquez has scored 128 points, Valentino Rossi has scored 113 points, Jorge Lorenzo has scored 71 points, and Cal Crutchlow has scored 121 points. In other words, if the championship had started in Germany, Crutchlow would be in second place, just seven points behind Márquez.

Be careful what you ask for

You can understand why Cal Crutchlow's name was being bandied about as a replacement for Dani Pedrosa when rumors of his departure to the Movistar Yamaha team were being mooted around Le Mans. Yet Crutchlow would not fit well inside a factory team. Nor is it something he particularly aspires to. Crutchlow does not fit well inside the straitjacket of a factory set up, with the tight restrictions on what he is allowed to say. And he knows that the factories know this too.

"A factory bike isn't going to happen," he told reporters. "I'm happy with my team, but maybe I deserve more support from my factory. When I rode for Yamaha, I had good support from the factory and got offered a contract to stay again. We get good support, but I think they should be helping me more, and LCR as a team more." He also dropped a few hints at the tensions between the factory and satellite teams. "It's disappointing to win a race and not see the boss at the press conference, because if you were in another factory, they would be there. I know there are people there internally that really help me, and that there are people internally that don't like them for doing it."

Still crazy after all these years

If Crutchlow's second win brought the concept of an Alien into question, Valentino Rossi's rider confirmed that some riders really are a little bit more special. It has become almost commonplace for Rossi and his crew to find something special on Sunday morning, making him much more competitive during the race. At least part of that something special is just, well, the race. Rossi loves competition – he has to, or else he would not still be winning races at age 37 – and the challenge of beating tough rivals brings out the best of him.

That was obvious in his charge towards the front. The imperious manner in which he disposed of twelve of the fourteen riders who started ahead of him was breathtaking. No one was safe on the way into Honda Corner or MG, Rossi passing one or more riders there almost every lap. It took him five laps to get up to sixth, then another five to make his way to second, assisted by Márquez crashing out. Last year, Valentino Rossi had his weakest run of results in the final four races. He is looking much stronger in 2016.

Maverick Viñales also made his way forward through the field. The Suzuki rider had qualified down in thirteenth, paying the price for the silly crash he had in FP3 which prevented him from setting a fast lap while conditions allowed. Viñales was not as quick to make his way past the riders ahead, but it was obvious when he had a clear track ahead of him that he was quick. When he was in fifth and chasing his teammate Aleix Espargaro and the factory Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso, he was quicker than everyone except Crutchlow. If he had been able to get past Espargaro and Dovizioso quickly, he should have been able to catch Valentino Rossi.

I thought turbos were banned?

Getting past Dovizioso was not easy, however. Or rather, it was easy enough at Turn 2, or at Turn 4, or through Hayshed, or at MG. But getting far enough ahead at MG to prevent Dovizioso from gobbling him back again once the Italian lit the afterburners on the Ducati Desmosedici proved very difficult indeed.

Both Viñales and Espargaro suffered a fate which many riders have complained about throughout the season. Through tight sections, and especially through areas which rely on agility, it is possible to get past the Ducati. But inevitably, they pass you back as soon as they get a chance to open the throttle, and use their horsepower and acceleration advantage to blast their way back ahead. More agile bikes with less horsepower then find themselves being held up in the corners, while the Ducatis take advantage in the straights.

Once Viñales did get far enough ahead, he quickly gapped Dovizioso, benefiting also from a mistake made by Aleix Espargaro, who crashed out at Turn 4 after entering on a wider line. Viñales went on to claim his fourth podium of the year, including victory at Silverstone, and his second podium in two races. At Silverstone, Viñales had made it clear that he believed he had a chance to win at Phillip Island. On Sunday, he proved that was not idle talk, though he had wrecked any real chance of a win by his failure to qualify well.

Normalizing Suzuki

Viñales' podium was significant in another way as well. It brought Suzuki's tally to one win and three third places, making a total of six concession points. That sixth concession point means that Suzuki will now lose their extra privileges as a new factory in MotoGP, aimed at helping factories without strong results catch up. From 2017, Suzuki will have just seven instead of nine engines per season, and their engine design will be frozen at the first race in Qatar. They will be limited to five days of private testing with the factory riders, instead of being limited only by the tire allocation.

The lack of testing, especially, could have a big effect on Suzuki. Next season, they have two new riders with Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins, and they will want to get them up to speed as quickly as possible. More private testing would have helped with that. Now, they will have to draw up a test plan to optimize the five days they have.

The loss of concessions may be a disadvantage for Suzuki (or more accurately, the loss of an advantage), but the Japanese factory will not shed a tear over it. The aim of racing in MotoGP is to prove you are successful as a manufacturer, have racing pedigree, and can build fast bikes. Suzuki have already demonstrated that. They would take podiums and wins over extra engines any time.

Will engines come into play next year for Suzuki? At Aragon, Viñales took his eighth engine, while Espargaro took his one race later, at Motegi. That would have put them over the limit this year, though Suzuki were still actively modifying the engine, having brought a power upgrade earlier in the season. Cutting back to seven engines for 2017 will be a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

After getting the holeshot, Pol Espargaro slipped back down the order, losing grip and unable to stay with the front runners. He still finished fifth, however, comfortably ahead of Jorge Lorenzo on the factory Yamaha. Espargaro has had a very strong season so far, and has been very consistent. His trouble is that Cal Crutchlow has been much stronger, and is building up an insurmountable lead in the race for best independent rider.

A lack of heat means a lack of feel

While Valentino Rossi found confidence on Sunday, Jorge Lorenzo did not fare very well at all. The Movistar Yamaha rider started from twelfth on the grid, but could not stay ahead of either Rossi or Viñales when they came past. He did slowly pick his way forward, but he crossed the line in sixth, 20 seconds behind Crutchlow, and 16 seconds behind Rossi. It was a mediocre end to a dismal weekend.

The culprit? The temperature, and how colder temps affect the grip of the tires. When asked what his main problem was, Lorenzo did not mince his words. "Especially the rear tire," he said. "After what happens to Baz and Redding they brought a harder rear tire. And from Brno, they bring another rear tire that we had tried in Montmeló. It should have more drive. But instead of that we have even more problems."

There are conditions where he can still get the tires to work, he said. "In a track like Motegi, which has grippy tarmac, we are there fighting in the top three. We keep the same tires but as soon as we have much less grippy conditions like this weekend our Yamaha struggles and I struggle more than other Yamaha riders because of my riding. I am so smooth so I need more rear grip than the others, who prefer more spinning and less rear grip."

Smooth operator

The problem is that because of his smooth style, he cannot get the temperature in the tires that other riders can, a problem he shares with Dani Pedrosa. "When there is grip on the rear I can ride like I want without being scared of crashing and make the difference," Lorenzo explained. "I make the difference when I pick up the bike. I am very good and have a good drive and be very, very quick." When he can't get the temperature into the tire, he struggles, and is slow.

Lorenzo said this problem was made worse by a lack of progress with the electronics. Honda and Suzuki had made big steps forward, while Yamaha were just standing still. He had problems in every area, he said. "I have blocking when shifting down. I have lack of confidence in the entry because the engine braking is not perfect. And I have problems with spinning on the exit of the corners, I cannot drive. With good grip, you cannot see so much these problems. When there is torque or very low grip the problems are three or four times."

That Lorenzo should struggle with tires should come as no surprise. 2016 looks like a repeat of 2014, when Bridgestone introduced the heat resistant layer into their rear tire. Those tires, combined with a reduction in the fuel allowed, left Lorenzo struggling for grip and for smoothness. It took a modification towards the middle of the season (or very hot conditions) for Lorenzo to start making progress. Once Bridgestone brought new tires with a softer edge, the Spaniard was competitive again.

Hoping for heat

With MotoGP heading to Sepang next, Lorenzo will be hoping for relief from his problems. The tropical heat should mean the tires won't be a problem, though it remains to be seen what effect the new surface will have on the tires. Looking forward to 2017, however, Lorenzo will have to hope that Michelin modify their tires to provide a little more edge grip, and a little more drive grip. That, more than anything the Ducati does, will be the key to Lorenzo's two years with the Italian factory.

If the racing at the front was far from scintillating, the crowd was treated to a proper ding dong battle for seventh place. At one point, seven riders were involved, positions being swapped nearly every lap. But Jack Miller forced Nicky Hayden down, and then Hector Barbera crashed on his own, to thin the group out to five. The battle for seventh went all the way down to the wire, Scott Redding eventually emerging victories.

Bradley Smith rode a brave and smart race to finish in eighth, staying out of the way until the final lap, still struggling to ride with his injured leg. Smith only got involved in the final laps, and took advantage of that scrap to finish behind Redding. Redding will be extra pleased with Smith, as the Tech 3 Yamaha rider finished between Redding and his Pramac Ducati teammate Danilo Petrucci. The two are engaged in a battle for the solitary GP17 which will be on offer to the team next year. Having Smith take a point from Petrucci will make Redding a happy man.

Moto2 madness

If the battle for seventh was exciting, the Moto2 race provided exactly the kind of breathtaking racing which Phillip Island serves up. In a fierce three-way battle, Tom Luthi eventually prevailed over Franco Morbidelli and Sandro Cortese. Luthi came out of that scrap very well, taking over second in the Moto2 championship and closing the gap to Johann Zarco to just 22 points. With both Alex Rins and Sam Lowes crashing out, Luthi is looking like the main challenger for the 2016 Moto2 title.

What is remarkable about Moto2 this year is just how inconsistent the title challengers have been. Sam Lowes has crashed out several times, though not always through his how fault. He crashed again at Phillip Island, but only because the bike he was riding was still not 100% after he had damaged it in a crash in warm up in the morning. Johann Zarco has won races and finished nowhere, and at Phillip Island he finished twelfth. Zarco is one of the very few riders who do not feel comfortable at Phillip Island, and he suffered accordingly.

Next week, Moto2 heads to Sepang, a track where the Frenchman won last year. But he held off a hard-charging Tom Luthi, who is in the best form of his life. Luthi has been the most consistent Moto2 rider in the second half of the championship, and Phillip Island was his first ever back-to-back win. If Zarco does not pick up his game, he could find himself heading to Valencia defending a rapidly dwindling lead.

Both Rins and Zarco are having a torrid second half of the season, the two riders fighting for the championship one week, nowhere the next. This will be a concern to their new teams for 2017, when they make their ascent to MotoGP. Zarco heads to Tech 3, where Guy Coulon and Hervé Poncharal have the task of managing Zarco's mind and bending it to MotoGP. Rins joins Suzuki, where he has the opportunity to learn in the shadow of Andrea Iannone. They will have to learn fast.

The cream always rises

If Moto2 was thrilling, Moto3 was terrifying. The race saw rider after rider crash out, before a huge crash involving John McPhee saw the race red-flagged. McPhee was later diagnosed with concussion and a broken thumb, and will be forced to miss Sepang. The race was restarted as a ten-lap sprint, one which 2016 champion Brad Binder ended up dominating. Andrea Locatelli cruised home to a strong second, while another mental battle was fought out for the final podium position. Aron Canet came out on top of that one, just ahead of Darryn Binder. Afterwards, Brad Binder seemed happier for his brother Daz' fourth place than for his win at Phillip Island.

And so on to Sepang. From the freezing cold of Phillip Island, to the broiling tropical heat of Malaysia, it is going to feel like moving from an excessively air conditioned office into the sweltering jungle heat. After two tough weekends in the cold, the paddock faces a brutal third weekend in the sauna that is Sepang.


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Total votes: 152
Total votes: 132

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Comments

The Moto2 race was incredible.  Luthi kept his cool 2 races in a row. I have never seen him that animated.  Nice. He looks strong for Malaysia.  I hope the championship goes to Valencia but if Zarco wins in Sepang it is game over.

Total votes: 134

Yamaha need to get it right with the M1 2017, unless they want a repeat of Honda domination again next year.

Honda is just vastly superior in cold condition compared to other bikes

Total votes: 168

I think Crutchlow's age is more a factor than his mouth re a factory ride. Of course more than both of those is the matter of Marquez and Pedrosa being inked for a deal.

But Cal is coming into his own, along with the Honda. And the factory bike is good for several (3?) tenths over the satellite right? I find myself looking for the gap to Marquez and adding that in, to find a compelling argument for HRC to proffer one more full factory bike to LCR. It has been done before w Gresini. Looks like a win for everyone to have a rider of Cal's caliber get the full tilt goods.

Yamaha has never done it. Herve and his next protoge would not hesitate to sign the contract. Why not do it?

Miller looked a tad dodgy w Hayden, my face scrunched before the bump and crash. I am not unbiased though as an American. Anyone from across the pond see the pass as an ask on Miller's part?

Cheers

Total votes: 134

I didn't think the pass was anything new in MotoGP. It was a pretty gentle (but unfortunate) touch, considering what else we've seen in the last two years or so.

Total votes: 145

From the TV i though the pass looked fairly late, but miller looked like he was able to hold it pretty much on line at the apex. So i'd say hard but fair.

I think nicky was just planning to hang in around the outside and try to fire it back up the inside at siberia, but he left just a fraction too little room and got unlucky with the contact, it was a shame as he had been having a great weekend up until then

Total votes: 145

"The Bike

RC213V nr. 35 Factory Spec - Cal Crutchlow"

So he's already on a full Factory bike, just not with the Factory team.   

Total votes: 136

Just because he is on a "Factory Spec" machine doesn't mean that his team has anything like the resources of the factory guys. Nor does a non-factory rider have another team working to get the machine to work the way that he wants. The fact that all the major factories have test riders who they can put up in the event of the number 1/2 having a bad day at the office tells it all. Nor do the factories allow much in the way of the sort of changes that factory riders do. Nor do they have the sheer number of people available to do the job. That doesn't necessarily mean improved performances (just take a look at the "Old" Ducati team) but, with good management a factory team clearly has a much better chance of winning races. It isn't just some coincidence that the last time a non-factory rider won a MotoGP race was 10 years ago. If it was, do you think that the factories would really go to the sort of expense entailed if there was no financial benefit from having a factory team?

 

Total votes: 149

Some good points above. Although Cal's bike might be mechanically the same as Marc's bike the electronics will be setup differently. LCR may only have 1-2 guys working on the electronics whereas Repsol will have a dedicated team. It's all about resources and Repsol Honda have a lot more than the Honda satellite teams. You only have to look at Nicky Hayden's comments after Philip Island comparing the Repsol Honda to the Marc VDS Honda - he said the Repsol bike gave him a lot more confidence with the front end allowing him to brake more and load it more.

Total votes: 107

Motoshrink had opined that Honda should step up and supply Crutchlow/LCR with a Factory spec RCV and I was just pointing out that they already had one.

Exactly as you have stated I tried to make the point last season that maybe the top 4 Alien's status was as much a result of the Alien technology and resources at their disposal rather than a huge disparity in riding talent.  It didn't go down well! 

But the way this season has unfolded has been quite enlightening.  Remember the early races?  The Factories were so fast out of the blocks, destroying many of our hopes for renewed competition with the introduction of the Unified Software.  But as you say, with the ability of Factories to throw bulk resources, personnel, simulations and test riders at the "problem" it shouldn't really have been a suprise. 

While the new systems were dumbed down compared to what Honda and Yamaha were used to working with, it was still a significant upgrade for the likes of struggling Suzuki.  And for a cash/personnel-strapped Satellite team?  It would have been much like Fiji receiving a space shuttle for Christmas, so little wonder it took them a while to figure out how to use it.

But figure it out they did and we've had a great season as a result. 

 

 

Total votes: 155

GPone are reporting that he has a fractured T9 vertebra and it is unknown if he'll race at Sepang.

 

The crash that red flagged the Moto3 race looked horrible. I'm very glad John got off so lightly, we were very worried for him. I hear he's heading home for the surgery, from the look of PI it might be a bit warmer when he gets here.

 

Congratulations to Darryn Binder, so close to joining his brother on the podium! :D

Total votes: 167

That was a horrible accident, bike behind ran straight into him, was very worrying when he didn’t move. Very please to see a pic of him sitting up in the hospital bed (albeit with large neck brace).

Get well soon!

Total votes: 129

There have been many more than just the 'fabulous Five' of the present era, who deserve the term 'Aliens', in that their skills and results put them well outside the end of the bell-curve of competence in their eras.  

Let's go back quite a long time: to Agostini and Hailwood. Agostini holds the all-time record for WCs  though Angel Nieto (with 13 WCs)  should not be lightly dismissed. 

A couple of years ago, Ago commetned that he had once ridden one of Hailwood's bikes and found it to be 'like iron'; and (most graciously) that Hailwood could ride anything and win, while he - Ago - needed a good bike. Now, that was in relation to a comment on the comparable qualities of Rossi and Stoner - and Ago likened himself to Rossi and Hailwood to Stoner. 

Ago rode to win WCs: once he had secured the WC in a class, he stopped racing that class for the year. I think that says all that needs to be said as to Ago's motivation. Hailwood wore his heart emblazoned on his helmet: 'For Love of the Sport'.  There is no greater story in motorcycle racing than Hailwood's return to the IOM after 11 years of not racing - other than a couple of runs in Australia on an uncompetitive Ducati 750.

Moving forwards: Barry Sheene, riding a very uncompetitve Suzuki. For all of his 'laddish' ways, one of the most intelligent, and very, very multi-talented.  Know any other motorcycle Wc who has sung Opera at Covent Garden with the greats?: Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi? And, Barry broke down the walls of genral public acceptance of motorcycle racers as interesting, intelligent, loveable characters.

Later, Schwantz as a fearless racer, though some (including me) would argue that his motivation was monstrous jealousy of Wayne Rainey and an ability to throw the bike at the track and fight it to stay on. 

Freddy Spencer, last man to win WCs in the same year in two classes. Just to prove he could.

Kenny Roberts. Just plain FKN fast.

Mick Doohan, whose domination was forged from the alloy of crushing his opponents by force of will and sheer talent. When his opponents were catching up, he shifted to an engine of uncontrolable power and used it yet again as the hammer. Minor inconveniences such as a smashed right leg, were overcome.

Valentino Rossi, gifted with an entree into GP racing at the best level of machinery, who has used his dual skills on and off the track to create a commercial empire.  Absolute King of the 990's.  His motivation is to beat the opposition, and capitalise on each win for the greater good of Brand Rossi.

Casey Stoner; King of the 800's and Phillip Island.  Skills that - even though freely available in the data to all other team riders, they could not replicate. Stoner's motivation has always been to ride the bike he is on vs. the track he is on to perfection.  The only re-incarnation of Hailwood. Still faster on a Ducati than the team riders. 

Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, I group together:  absolutely capable of riding the bike they are on at the time to 99.99% and 99.995% of its limits for the entire race.  Both fair, responsible and super-fast.

Marquez: freak skills to recover from riding at 102%...

But of ALL the 'Aliens' we might consider, there is one who has never even raced in MotoGp: 'Yer Maun': Joey Dunlop.

If you wanted to create a blockbuster movie about motorcycle racers, it would be the dual stories of Hailwood returning to the IOM on a cobbled-up Ducati after 11 years of non-racing ( bar a couple of races in Australia)  and Joey Dunlop, getting some mates to hoist his old  RC30 down from the ceiling of his pub so he copuld go out and smack down McGuinness at the IoM.

 

 

 

Total votes: 195

You always write well, Oscar, but you've excelled yourself with that one.

Last paragraph - last sentence - had me laughing out loud.

Gold : )

Total votes: 123

" Yet Crutchlow would not fit well inside a factory team. Nor is it something he particularly aspires to."

 

Is this a new (post Ducati) position? I ask only because whemn he was at Tech 3 I read he'd said he wanted (and deserved) a factory ride. In  fact I thought I'd rememebered you writing about just this on one occasion, David.

 

Is it a question of Rider, know thyself?

Total votes: 133

I get what you're saying about the aliens, and with the new electronics, the field has evened up. However, Dani Pedrosa, on a full fat factory machine has now won fewer races this season than Crutchlow. Not only that, but Crutchlow has now matched Dani's win tally in all-but-4 (out of 10) seasons at Repsol Honda. I am also aware that Pedrosa was always considered by most to be the weakest of the Aliens.

Whatever, it's really hard to believe that Crutchlow was taking it cautiously after Marquez' crash, he really did look not just fast, but committed. As you say, you can never know what might have been, and Marquez had a good lead, but when a rider has that sort of lead, the usual thing is for the lead rider to demonstrate that they have more in reserve when the gap back starts shrinking. Marquez' lead went from nearly 3 seconds to 2,4 seconds. Marquez had responded, but only stabilised that gap for one lap. Did he go down whilst trying to assert his dominance? Only Marquez can know that, but CC35's pace must certainly have meant that MM93 couldn't just take it easy, even with a 2+ second advantage.

Thanks Cal, I've been watching the sport since Sheene's heyday and was starting to doubt that I'd ever see another British rider at the top level.

2 wins in a single season, on a non-factory bike really is very impressive.

Total votes: 144

"Not only that, but Crutchlow has now matched Dani's win tally in all-but-4 (out of 10) seasons at Repsol Honda."

Maybe I'm not understanding you correctly but are you saying because Cal has now won 2 races this season, that is somehow equal to Dani because Dani "only" had 2 wins in all but 4 seasons????  You realize Dani had those 2 wins a season in 5 separate seasons....and has won at least 1 race every year of his 10-year career (incl 7 wins in one season)....and has 29 total premier class wins (51 wins in his entire GP career).....and averages more wins a season in MotoGP than Cal's had in his entire 6-year career combined???  I really hope I just misunderstood your statement.

Total votes: 149

Not to mention Pedrosa's podium tally each season vs that of Crutchlow.

Taking nothing away from Crutchlow's win at the Island - it's one of the most dominant wins of the entire season - but a little perspective please. Pedrosa is on a different level to Crutchlow if we're talking careers and results.

Furthermore, Crutchlow hasn't bounced back from multiple season-ending injuries the way Pedrosa has (seriously, Pedrosa must hold some kind of record on that alone?!).

Crutchlow is one of the top riders of his generation, no doubt about it. Top ten, I'd say. Not yet comparable to Pedrosa.

Total votes: 132

Does the 5 days of testing that Suzuki (and other factories have) mean throughout the season or throughout the contract year?

In other words can Suzuki test 'a lot' pre season? I am assuming not but if so where does the post season testing fit in? (Or is that part of the 5 days too?)

Total votes: 135

Lorenzo's lack of ability to adjust his riding to certain circumstances.... rain, cold, different tyres etc. will probably cost him dearly next year. The Bologna beast is anything but easy to ride, and probably a lot less confidence aspiring then a Yamaha M1.

Can't help but wonder if Gigi is having second thoughts about signing him yet... bet Rossi is having a laugh though...

Total votes: 153

Thanks David

Cal has been much derided here in comments over the years. The wonderful thing about MotoGP is you never can tell, he's not the youngster on the grid now, and he's hit a half season of great form. A win in the dry on a satellite bike is an awesome achievement. He won podiums on Tech 3 as well, Cal is without doubt a class rider.

Excellent shows by Rossi (where did that come from after a poor weekend?) and Vinales too. Vinales will surely be winning races next year.

Can someone tell me; what is the obsession with broadcast cutting to the garage jumping up and down when the clear winner crosses the line? There was an almighty race behind with Redding, Miller & co approaching the last corners and as ever we saw nothing of it. Do Dorna have to do this as an agreement with sponsors? It happens every time, bloody irritating!

Total votes: 175

I could not agree more an feel the whole world is cringing ever time this happens. Which is pretty much every race. One of the biggest irritations on race days.

Total votes: 162

I agree about the garage video Swiftnick. But I also really dislike showing 1, 2, 3 or more replays of the race start- while the race is going on. Maybe I'm alone here.

Total votes: 164

I don't mind the garage shot. The team puts in a huge effort just to get their rider onto the grid each race - they deserve some of the limelight if their guy holds up his end of the deal.

All part of the spectacle as far as I'm concerned.

I agree on the replays of the start - not really necessary unless someone jumps, or the start has led to a crash.

The super-slow-motion footage was a bit stale, though - but then again that's been the case ever since Stoner retired ; )

Total votes: 129

I don't mind the garage shot either. But I do when it deprives us from seeing last corner battles / overtakes. And could do without all the race start replays, too.

Maybe some garage shot replays a couple of minutes after the race would do the trick :)

Total votes: 130

While I get your point and always detested the "Alien" moniker anyway, I find it undermines Crutchlow's achievements a bit to call it into question now, when he was the one who won a second race. Had this been the second win of Vinales, I'm fairly certain he'd be confirmed an Alien, would he not? It seems to me that the whole concept is mainly being called into question because "the wrong rider won", which I think does Crutchlow some injustice.

For what it's worth, I don't think Vinales' win was that untouchable either to explain with new Alien status. Yes, he rode strongly and ran away at the front right from the start, but everyone behind him was obviously more concerned with beating each other up than catching him, because he was no threat to the championship, so that he had a pretty "easy" time of it to stay where he was as they slowed each other down considerably. Granted, it might have been other weather conditions, but in terms of race strategy I don't think that's much different from Marquez letting Miller stay ahead in Assen, because his main rivals for the championship were out of the game.

Generally I think there's been too much panic to find "the one" over the last years - that magical rider to take the fight to Rossi, then to replace Rossi, now to fight Marquez, later to replace Marquez - shoehorning everyone into the mold who might fit, however loosely, and then promoting and reporting the hell out of the guy, ignoring the rest. This is a mistake. There are no aliens, there've never been. There are certainly riders who have the talent, mindset, technical and personal support to dominate and are lucky enough to stay mostly healthy to reign for a while, but it does everyone else on the grid a huge disservice if we only regard them as worthy of attention, ignoring the rest and not acknowledging their talent, explaining their successes as a fluke and losses as par for the course while any lack of success from the "aliens" is explained away as just a bad day. Certainly, that makes the whole "DRAMA!" and hero/villain narratives we love so much a lot more difficult to sell and might confuse outsiders with more than two or three rider names they have to remember, but personally I prefer to celebrate the individual successes of every rider and see them as what they are, not what they are marketed to be.

Total votes: 160

Your words, and David's, remind me of one of my favourite quotes.

“No two persons ever read the same book.” ― Edmund Wilson

Terrific comments, thanks.

Total votes: 139

Yes I think that they do, Doohan dominated once Schwantz retired and then Rossi dominated after Doohan retired until Pedrosa and Stoner came along. This would not have happened if Aliens did not exist. What I am cetain of, however, is that there is no such thing as a Goat and I am sure that every former world champion depises the term, Rossi excepted of course.

Total votes: 141

Infinitely more productive than below the line reading on social media.

Another tremendous commentary and thought provoking too. 

Look forward to the Podcast. 

Total votes: 134

Wow, an undeniably great effort by Crutchlow.  Some will say he was given a handy head start over Rossi, that given a start on equal footing Rossi would have found the edge to get in front despite similar laptimes.....but there is no denying the LCR team performed better over the whole weekend.  Crutchlow may be the lead singer but the whole band rocked it big time. 

Concerning the "Crutchlow should get a Factory gig" I'm not so sure that his age or his opinions remove that from possibility as the fact that he was bettered by Dovi on the same Tech 3 Yamaha, this after Dovi never quite matched Stoner or Pedrosa in the Factory Honda squad.  So I fear Crutchlow's place in the pecking order has been judged.  

But I kinda think Crutchlow revels in the underdog status, so the current situation suits him just fine.

 

 

Total votes: 152

When Kenny Roberts hit the scene back in 1978, it was the late, great Italian photographer Franco Vilani who, I believe, first called King Kenny a Martian. We picked that up in the Spanish press and for years Roberts was called "el marciano." Someone asked Franco in my presence why he labeled Roberts thus and he replied, "because he is small, dressed all in yellow and obviously from another world."

I don´t know when I first read the word "extraterrestre" (alien) in Spanish and Italian applied to a rider. It may have been as early as Spencer, as rival of Roberts, but it seems to me that the term hibernated and reappeared in Spanish and Italian in early the days of Rossi, Pedrosa and Lorenzo, and then Stoner became the fourth alien and, as David observes, Marquez became Stoner's alien replacement. 

I believe Roberts deserved the "Martian" tag because he brought a new riding style, but it came from Earth...in fact from earth...dirt...dirt track. But I have never been fond of the "alien" label since it is impossible for an "alien" to show his true ability unless he has a factory or almost factory bike. An alien without a factory "OVNI" (Spanish for UFO, unidentified flying object...flying saucer) is just another fast rider. 

Cal is now on the alien cusp. It is true that in the past Honda gave very strong support to riders outside the Repsol sphere. Sete Gibernau was given as close to full HRC support as any Honda rider outside the factory team ever enjoyed. Barros also got very good support with Pons, as did Biaggi. Melandri, in his Gresini days, got the good stuff too. But the current situation with Nakamoto as boss is not so inclusive. It will be interesting to see what happens in the post-Nakamoto era. (If you want to go back to 500 days, a good example of Honda letting the factory stuff out of the closed HRC garage is the Erv Kanemoto-Eddie Lawson-Rothmans look-alike team parked next door to Oguma´s Gardner-Doohan-Rothmans team in 1989.)

I am glad David tackled the "alien" question. I have never used the term except to deride it because these guys put on their leathers one leg at a time and are humans working on the very limit of earthly physics and gravity.

Total votes: 139

David, are you able to shed any light as to why Fabio Quartararo was again forced to start at the rear of the grid for the Moto 3 restart? Unless there is another piece of the story of which we are unaware, this was surely a case of double jeopardy; being punished twice for the same crime.

Total votes: 142

All grid penalties were re-applied for the second race start, you can check the official grid positions for Race 2 on motogp.com on the results page from Race 1: http://resources.motogp.com/files/results/2016/AUS/Moto3/RAC/Grid_2.pdf

You can see that the black info strip on the bottom even notes the 3 place penalties for Bastianini and McPhee, although they've obviously not been on the grid anymore.

It appears that grid penalties are applied to the race in any circumstance, even if it's a re-run. I don't remember the restart situation happening before when grid penalties were given previously, so this might simply have been the first time anyone noticed due to Quartararo being all the way at the back again.

Total votes: 130

Great article! It seems the field is considerably deeper than once percieved. Probably the new spec rules have a lot with revealing the surge in parity. Looking to see Suzuki emerge more competitive next season. I just wish they would have kept at least one of their riders from this season. 

Total votes: 135

If any other rider, besides Valentino Rossi, would have started in 15th and got 2nd at PI, it would be major news.  Instead, it's something like "He did it again, for the 50th time."  Not that big of a deal.  I think it's his best ride since the Valencia race last year.

Seeing Cal win, on a satellite bike, is a sight for sore eyes.  We had such a long gap since a satellite rider won a race, like 10 years.  Toni's fierce ride at Portugal in 2006. 

I do hope we get a fight at Sepang, as this PI race was virtually over at half race distance.  I just hope it isn't a repeat of last year's race.

Total votes: 151

I'm 100% with Dennis Noyes on the Alien issue. For almost 3 decades any racer, no matter his level of excllence as a tallent has been restricted by dearth of top flight, proven, consistently winning, fully supported factory machinery. The top and consistently winning manufacturer's generally determine who the top rider's, or 'alien-knighted' are and not the other way around. Beginning 21st century and to date, there exist only two consistently winning manufacturer's...HRC and Yamaha.

Suzuki got a rider title in 2000 with KRJnr and Ducati got a massive ego boost by virtue of CS 2007 through 2010 and thats about it. The current situation sans Stoner remains status quo, BUT! 2016 has been a watershed year and it looks like Carmello Espelleta/Dorna vision is paying dividends. Silver spoon gifted aliens are no longer in a comfort zone of imperious entitlement to the best any factory can give them and Cal's win proves the point. When last did I see in the Alien era, a South African, a Swiss and a Manxman win all 3 classes. Spanish and Italian riders dominate and with good reason. Spain and Italy put the most into the sport and kudos to them for doing so. Its natural that HRC Repsol would run Dani and Marc. Next year Vale and Maverick at Movistar. Rossi generally wrights his own ticket because as an individual he is so business and media savvy. The rest have to rely on good fortune and their skill set. 2017 ought to be the year where everything kicks off 90% level as a playing field in Qatar. One year of Michelin experience, no wings, a resurgent(clearly)Aprilia and KTM. 

A third, 100% supported rider on a 100% factory bike for 2017 and beyond is the way to go. I like what Ducati have done with the Pramac dash for glory GP17 attitude. Cal and LCR have earned a fully supported HRC bike for 2017. Movistar Yamaha need to throw one at Tech3 Zarco or Rins mid 2017, results based.

Back to the racing. Pole and two wins in 2 races. I liked that, bar the carnage. I also don't figure it was fair to punish Quattararo twice for a single crime in Moto3. Luthi was a fox in a hen house in Moto2.

MGP and Ducati/Suzuki battle. I reckon Vinales would have closed down and passed Rossi with ease had the poor handling rocketship Dovi had underneath him not held the Suzuki up lap after lap upon dragstrip entry and exit. Credit to Dovi, he's just doing what Casey did back in the day, play to the bike's only strength. Casey just wrung its neck more in the twisties and flowies. George is going to find the 2017 GP a nightmare as did Vale in 2013 is my prediction. The thing is essentially a Ducati powerplant in an M1 Quassi chassis. Ne'er did the twain meet, not then, not now. Should have stuck with Preziosi's CF or Tamburini's pipe. That Panigalle CF looks pretty slick in SBK. I'm looking forward to the KTM pipe frame performance in Sepang testing 2017. 

Total votes: 141

I'm curious to know if Honda is giving any extra support to Cal right now to try and lock up the constructor's championship with Dani having been sidelined for the fly-aways.  

Total votes: 133

First couple of laps reminded me of that Will Ferrell movie, Ricky Bobby or whatever that was called. Seeing Maverick and Rossi slicing through the field was though short lived, fun to watch. Overall, what surprised me the most about the race were the teams ability to setup bikes based on only 30 minutes of clear skies. 

We've all know Cal is a good rider, he just needed to get his confidence back but personally I find Maverick's development more impressive, not only because of his age but because he's been getting good results on the 'weakest' of all Factory bikes. Suzuki has been back what, 3/4 years now and I think that they've made more progress that Gigi on the Ducati since he joined. 

If in 2017 we continue to see Maverick winning and on the race for the championship I would definitively consider him an Alien. Same goes for Cal.

Total votes: 132

Very good article and comments, thank you guys !

In my opinion, an alien is simply a rider who is almost on top at every race, who wins races, who competes for the championship, years after years after years...

And to do that you need a factory machine, years after years...

I think Crutchlow deserves a factory bike (I mean a Honda or Yamaha with factory support), Pedrosa I like you but ... you know.

Maybe too late unfortunatly, it would have been great to have this kind of character (and spectacular pilot) fighting for the championship

Cheers

Total votes: 127

truely and constantly extract every ounce of performance a Bridgestone had to give. And, being the best, they naturally gravitated towards factory rides which then allowed them all advantages and support possible, ultimately resulting in their crushing era-defining-dominance.

And now Michelin has shifted the riding in a whole different direction and nobody has yet perfectly mastered them. I guess.

Rossi cutting through the field was pure vintage Rossi. Nice to see him every now and then.

Total votes: 133

This particular comparison reminds me why I Loved and Hated my Zook SV650 at various track days. Loved making inline 600s and 1000s look the fool passing on the inside or even better, por fuera. 

Hated being passed on the straights only to have to pass them again, and again until they finally would figure maybe they should give up. 

Total votes: 147

He's done it again... yep, had to look that one up (and I rate myself on my vocabulary, I'll have to go away and re-think that assessment).

epistemology
ɪˌpɪstɪˈmɒlədʒi,ɛ-/
noun
Philosophy
noun: epistemology
  1. the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.
     
Not bad, David. But you know it's like a woman's dress - you can only use it once ; )
Total votes: 121

Calling certain racers "Alien" is just a manner of appreciating their talent because, at times, simply calling them brilliant, great, isn't enough. By rights, each rider on the grid is great.

Total votes: 121

I think Alien means "untouchable on their best days, of which come often per season."

Total votes: 134

There are no more aliens because of the rules-induced parity.  This is what organizers have craved, more different winners, and more scrapping at the front.  Gone are the days of one "alien" leaving the rest behind, which one depending on the bike, track, temps, and injuries of others.  Parity has been created by the spec electronics, along with many other rules gradually added over the years.  Professional hockey, NASCAR, and many other sports do the same thing: try to make all of the teams as equal as possible, for the sake of good competition instead of lopsided wins.  It's the same with MotoGP, the racing is as close as ever, with, what, eight different winners so far this year?  Including satellite bikes??  I think the term "aliens" can be put to rest, for now, because they're starting to achieve parity, and they're just not going to dominate the way they used to.

Total votes: 134

Differentiating bike parity and Alien. And subjective praise vs objective performance.

We have seen young riders on relatively poorer bikes look to be on Alien trajectory, consistently over-riding the potential of the bike. It causes us to re-evaluate what we think is possible. We get very excited about it, and with good reason!

Being on a "best bike" when there are FOUR of them in the world can be a part of a rider excelling in such an unequivocal manner. Rossi and the 990 Honda comes to mind. The rider and the bike are co-creating each other to a degree too - Rossi and the Yamaha and Stoner/Ducati come to mind. Sometimes this goes oddly, like Marquez and the 2015-on Honda over reaching in the "smash the front and unleash all the power" misstep. Paradoxically clarifying the Alien nature of Marquez who tempered his unbridled exhuberance WITH the bike that forced that. Much like Rossi/Burgess - Yamaha, Marquez taking the 2016 title on this bike is something...special. And we look now to Lorenzo with the 2017 Gigi Ducati with similar eyes.

The top 2-3 factories are able to secure the services of the Greats of course. Gone is the last era in which there were only 4 bikes. And here is the interesting point. Bike parity increasing does not contradict the concept of Alien. Nor does the "merely Superhuman" performance of Cal Crutchlow winning in the dry at the pantheon of PI with the improving satellite/"factory" Honda.

Rule changes have made something possible we can celebrate. It decreases the disparity in performance capacity between manufacturers and factory - satellite teams. It is fitting that we are specifically talking about Crutchlow. At Tech3 he had a struggle specifically with having had a handshake agreement to get a closer - to - factory bike with a big step up from Yamaha that didn't happen. Now the contrast is relevant. (Yamaha PLEASE for your own sake get Herve stronger bikes!).

Consider also the similar matter of Ducati and Suzuki, able to be in the front of a dry race. The bike needing a rider just as the rider needs bike. And that synergistic more that can come as bike and rider co-create each other. We can now see more bikes and riders achieve greatness. And this is good. With weather and tires as they have been this year Yamaha have some work cut out for them. Rossi looks human. Eyes turn to Maverick. Honda with their design philosophy and these tires erred with their bike and look human. Suzuki found 20 horsepower and a rideable bike with mechanical grip that may lead a race, with so little finances and personnel that it amazes. There is no reason that little KTM can't build on their solid development with smaller bikes to do the same. The Moto2 formula is about to change, and they have a bike and rider poised to capitalize. Even Aprilia is now mid-pack and rising, and have A.Espargaro that has had superhuman performances (yrs ago on the CRT) and recent excellence. Yes. This is good.

Iannone and Ducati, something special was displaying itself late last season. Phillip Island 2015 even had a bird poetically displaced while a rocketeer made passes for the ages. But it did not continue. And the opposite of Greatness manifested with red winged bikes colliding like bloody seagulls.

Every sport has its Greats. We have a name for ours. Crutchlow has gritted his way to greatness, and right now is a top 7 rider. He has my admiration, and nothing is diminished there by the notion of Aliens that have my wonder and awe.

If it was likely a mid-pack rider that has been on a bike that can win in the dry that first articulated the Alien notion, that is illuminating. Believe...they are unbelievable.

Total votes: 146