BRNO, Czech Republic – Cal Crutchlow is probably the happiest guy on the planet today.
First, his first child, daughter Willow, was born during the summer break. He was excited enough about that to have a special pair of leathers and a special pink-themed helmet prepared for the next race at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. In tough conditions, he finished on the podium there.
Then today at the fast, flowing Brno track he took his first-ever Moto GP win in a resounding fashion, making it an unheard-of three first-time winners in the last four races. His win didn’t come easy, to say the least – all three races were run in the wet, the Moto 2 race mostly in a downpour, the Moto 3 event in steady rain, and the Moto GP contest with the rain over, but on a soaking wet but slowly-drying track. Michelin offered two grades of wet tires, and Crutchlow was one of two who chose the harder combination, the other being Loris Baz, who finished a career-best fourth. Everyone else went soft at both ends except for the factory Yamahas, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo opting for a hard rear and a soft front.
All four ran well at the rear until the track started to dry a bit, when the softer rubber started to chew up and the harder choices came good. Crutchlow said, “I really feel that the biggest emotion I had was three weeks ago when Willow was born, so I don’t think it compares in that sense but that being said, it’s … the best emotion of my racing career. Hopefully it can happen again.”
The only one of the four to completely ball up his chances was Lorenzo, who with seven laps left came into the pits complaining the front was shot and hopped on his slick-shod second bike over the protests of his crew, did two laps, then came back and swapped back onto the original bike. He deservedly finished dead last for his awful call.
Andrea Iannone, who took his first win in the last race in Austria and led most of the race until his front tire chewed itself to ribbons – it was unbelievable he was able to finish at all, the condition it was in – came in sixth. Ironically, it was his brave choice of a softer set of tires at the Red Bull Ring that gave him victory there.
The podium was completed by an ecstatic Valentino Rossi and Honda’s Marc Marquez, who considered his job simply damage limitation. He’s still got a healthy 53-point lead in the championship, but now it’s Rossi rather than Lorenzo who’s his nearest rival. The Spaniard said, “Today, we didn’t do the best strategy or the best tire choice … Normally here, it can dry very quick but it kept wet and then when I realized in the race that all the race will be wet, I say, ‘OK, I need to manage the tyres’.”
The Moto 2 race was run in appalling conditions, heavy rain sluicing down for the entire contest. It didn’t matter to young German Jonas Folger, who calmly rode around the outside of series leader Johann Zarco at the first corner and simply disappeared into the distance in a remarkable display of perfectly-controlled aggression. Second and third went to Alex Rins and Sam Lowes, second and third in the championship, and both made up considerable ground on Zarco, who had a bad day at the office, the clinically-sharp French rider having a hard time to grind out a most uncharacteristic 11th. He’s still on top in the championship, but the gap has closed down to only 19 points over Rins, with Lowes another 25 back. The top three plus Zarco are all heading for Moto GP in 2017.
The rain in the Moto 3 event was steady, causing tricky track conditions and terrible visibility from the spray. The usual chopping and charging was a bit muted as a result, with 22-year-old Scot John McPhee eventually taking his first-ever Grand Prix win by a huge margin after championship leader Brad Binder made a rare mistake and crashed in the first corner while leading with only a few laps left. He was promptly joined in the gravel trap a lap later when Malaysian wet-weather expert Khairul Idham Pawi (who’s won two races this year in the wet by huge margins), who’d gone from 25th on the grid to second, pitched himself half-way to the Czech border, and then Darryn Binder joined his older brother and Pawi in the same spot.
This left McPhee with a 12-second advantage and the fastest lap times on the track with his pit frantically signalling him to slow down. He ignored them until he managed to save a huge high-side – his feet were well above the bike and it was a miracle he landed back in the seat – after which he slowed considerably and kept peering back over his shoulder looking for competitors!
He was followed home by early leader Jorge Martin and series rookie Fabio Giannantonio, continuing his fabulous first-season in Moto 3. It’s worth noting that McPhee and Martin are both riding Mahindras (McPhee’s branded as a Peugeot, but it’s a Mahindra), giving the Indian brand its first-ever one-two in Grand Prix competition.
Moto GP Championship Standings after 11 of 18 races
1. Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 197 points
2. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 144
3. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 138
4. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 109
5. Maverick Vinales, Spain, Team Suzuki Ecstar, 100
6. Andrea Iannone, Italy, Ducati Team, 96
7. Pol Espargaro, Spain, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 81
8. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 79
9. Hector Barbera, Spain, Avintia Racing Ducati, 76
10. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., LCR Honda, 66
Next race Spetember 11, Silverstone, U.K.