Race report: Barcelona MotoGP

Photo: MotoGP

CIRCUIT de BARCELONA CATALUNYA, Barcelona, Spain – It was a tale of tires and temperatures in all three classes, but at the finale of the Moto GP event victory went to Andrea Dovizioso on his factory Ducati.

It was his second successive win and only the fourth in his career (and second in dry conditions). The last time Ducati took two GPs on a trot was in 2010 when the other-worldly Casey Stoner was on board.

Tire management was crucial. The high temperatures – 33° air, 55° track – were bad enough for Michelin to cope with, but the aging surface at Barcelona throws up its own challenges. Oddly, the pavement is both highly abrasive and slippery, those conditions combining with the heat to make severe tire degradation inevitable – lap times dropped three to four seconds from start to finish – and made it certain that those riders who best conserved their tires would top the podiums.

Dovi rode a masterful race, getting away well, following closely behind early leaders Jorge Lorenzo on the second factory Ducati, then Honda Repsol team-mates Marc Marquez (who’d crashed five times during practice and qualifying) and Dani Pedrosa. Pre-race the smart money was on Pedrosa, who’s by far the smallest and lightest rider in the field and has a gentle, smooth riding style.

Dovizioso, ever the realist, said, “Today was a strange race, it wasn’t about the speed. Nobody could push because the tire didn’t have grip. And I have an advantage on the straight, because my engine is stronger. So it’s not the reality [i.e., Ducati superiority], I believe, unfortunately.

“Still we need something different in a few areas, the turning is the same limit as four races ago. I don’t want to speak in a negative way, but I’m realistic.”

But just past half-distance it was obvious that Dovizioso had better pace in his pocket. He used the Ducati’s incredible horsepower to get past Pedrosa on the straight, then said arrivederci and moved off into the distance. Marquez also got by his team-mate but couldn’t make an impression on the Italian, and that’s how they finished.

If everyone was having traction issues, the Yamahas were the hardest-hit by far, the two factory bikes in particular looking lost all weekend, both riders having to go through Qualifying 1. Maverick Viñales barely beat out his famous team-mate Valentino Rossi into Q-2, eventually taking ninth on the grid while Rossi had to start on the fifth row in 13th place.

In the race their positions were reversed, Rossi climbing up to an eventual eighth while Viñales collected 10th after fading back to as far as 16th. Rossi said, “For me, the main problem is that the bike has more understeer … At the end, the main problem is the rear traction, especially on the right, because already after 10 laps I was very very much in trouble and I had to slow down very much.” When asked why the Tech 3 satellite bikes didn’t seem to have the same problem, or at least as much, he simply said he thought the 2016 bikes (used by Tech 3) turned better than the current factory Yamaha. It’s not the first time he’s made similar comments.

Fourth on the day went to Jorge Lorenzo, the Spaniard getting his best ride so far on the Ducati. He led briefly, faded back to as low as eighth, then put on a charge in the last few laps to catch and pass the Tech 3 Yamaha duo of Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger. Folger in particular had an excellent race, running fourth and in podium contention for much of it, but in the end his tires cried ‘enough!’ and his team-mate – who’s renowned for his tire management skill – passed him on the second-last lap.

The top 10 was completed by Alvaro Bautista (Ducati) in seventh and Hector Barbera (Ducati) in ninth. That made for four Ducatis in the top 10, creating a lot of happy people in Bologna. The unlucky Danillo Petrucci, who’s 10th in the championship, might have made it five had he not crashed out of fourth place on the last lap. The cheerful Italian had said before the race, when asked if tire management would be important, “Why ask me? My style is too aggressive for that!”

Moto 2

The Moto 2 race was a pure and simple runaway for Alex Marquez on the Estrella-Galicia 0,0 Kalex to take only his second win in the class. He was fastest all weekend in practice and qualifying, got the holeshot at the lights, and simply disappeared, by nearly a second a lap in the early stages. His team-mate and championship leader Franco Morbidelli chased for a while but had a couple of scares, and eventually went into safe mode and faded back to sixth. He still maintains the series lead, but it’s been cut to seven points by Swiss veteran Tom Luthi, who collected third behind resurgent Italian Mattia Pasini, who won last week’s race in Mugello.

The top five was rounded out by Portuguese Miguel Oliveira, who continues to be exceptional in KTM’s first year in the class, and Lorenzo Baldassari of Italy. There was a terrific race with the riders from seventh to 12th, one of them being Takaaki Nakagami, the Japanese rider relieved to finish after having been knocked off in the last two races. There are persistent rumours he’ll be headed to Moto GP next year on an expanded Honda satellite squad run by LCR.

Moto 3

The race was the usual drafting mayhem, as often as not four or five bikes wide at the end of the fearsomely fast front straight, but in the end it was the usual names at the sharp end. In particular, series leader Joan Mir extended his lead with a brilliant bit of last-lap riding to grab another victory, extending his series lead to 45 points, nearly two full wins (25 points per win).

The Spaniard had another reason to celebrate, as during the race the Estrella Galicia 0,0 team announced they’d hired the 19-year-old Spaniard to join their Moto 2 team in 2018.

He was followed to the line by Romano Fenati, the volatile Italian having led much of the race. Fenati’s not known for his good will and sportsmanship, and it was nice to see him give Mir a congratulatory pat on the back after the finish line.

Third went to pole sitter Jorge Martin, who made a horrible start and had to fight back from well back in the pack. He’s yet to win a GP, but he’s surely due sometime soon.

World Moto GP Championship Standings after seven of 18 races

1. Maverick Viñales, Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 111 points
2. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 104
3. Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 88
4. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 84
5. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 75
6. Johann Zarco, France, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 75
7. Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati Team, 59
8. Jonas Folger, Germany, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 51
9. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., LCR Honda, 45
10. Danillo Petrucci, Italy, Pramac Ducati, 42

Next race, June 25, Assen, Netherlands

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