CIRCUIT RICARDO TORMO, Valencia, Spain – The fat lady finally sang her victory tune as the Moto GP season ended at Valencia on Spain’s eastern Mediterranean coast, and as expected she was singing for Honda’s Marc Marquez. The results gave the Spaniard his fourth Moto GP title and sixth GP title overall, at the tender age of 24.
He finished the season ahead of Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales, Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, and the ever-young Valentino Rossi on the second factory Yamaha.
However, while the odds were well in Marquez’ favour pre-race – he only needed to finish 11th and Dovizioso had to win – the race itself hardly went according to script. For starters, eight out of the 25 starters crashed out, an unheard-of ratio for Moto GP. The crashers included the title protagonists – Marquez was actually down, sliding on his forearm and shoulder with the bike scraping along the pavement, but he somehow levered the bike back upright with his knee and elbow before it hit the gravel and managed to keep it up as he powered back onto the track. It was an unbelievable save, and he joked later that the incident gave him “27 ½ crashes this season!”. Dovi wasn’t so lucky, merely running wide and then flopping over at walking speed as he tried to turn the bike.
Dovi’s team-mate Jorge Lorenzo also crashed while chasing the leaders, actually quite a fit result as he’d been holding up his team-mate for most of the race despite continual messages from the pits to let Dovi through for a crack at the leaders. He’s definitely not going to be a popular part of Ducati’s end of season party; most of the team pointedly ignored him in the pits after the race.
The race itself was quite entertaining, if not a pass-filled thriller like the one in Australia three weeks ago. Marquez was on pole, but Johann Zarco (Tech 3 Yamaha) and Andrea Iannone (Suzuki) were beside him – with three of the most aggressive riders in the field heading for the first turn together, the possibility of mayhem was intense. In the event, however, they quickly sorted themselves out, with Marquez in the lead and his team-mate Dani Pedrosa making a demon start from the second row to get between Marquez and the rest of the pack.
Zarco was on a mission for his first victory, however, and quickly got past Pedrosa, then attacked Marquez, who just let him by on lap four after a long look over his shoulder to see where Dovi was – sixth at the time. Zarco led most of the race, although Marquez was never far behind, with Pedrosa also holding station.
With only a few laps left, Marquez decided he could safely get past the Frenchman and grab the race win for the day, but left his braking late right after the pass and did his amazing crash and save immediately, rejoining in third.
Meanwhile, Pedrosa slowly closed up on Zarco, as the two chasing Ducatis of Lorenzo and then Dovizioso fell. On the first corner of the last lap, Pedrosa slipped past and rode a perfect defensive lap to take the race win and make Honda very, very happy – team trophy for the year, manufacturer’s title for the year, most race wins for the year.
A delighted Pedrosa said, “Obviously I’m very very happy because a win is a win, and this was a very tough and hard-fought one … The track wasn’t easy as front grip wasn’t perfect, and in fact we saw a lot of crashes in the race. I was just behind Marc when he made that save and it was incredible. The smoke, the noise, the speed—wow, impressive!”
Zarco was initially looking seriously disappointed after the race, being so close to his first victory in his first year in the class, but later said, “I am pretty happy and finishing first or second doesn’t change anything about the race quality that I did. I can enjoy this moment.” He was quite sportsmanlike about Pedrosa’s pass as well, saying, “it must be pleasing for Dani also. He overtook me in a good way on the last lap, at the first corner and he then waited a bit [blocked my line] and I couldn’t enter the corner effectively.”
Farther back, Iannone, Rossi, and Jack Miller (in his last ride for the Marc VDS Honda team) were having a terrific scrap, finally finishing in that order. They were all three surprised by Alex Rins on the second Suzuki, however – after qualifying 10th and falling back a bit at the start, the young Spaniard cleanly and smoothly scythed through the field to collect fourth. After a rocky start with a broken wrist, he’s generally had better 2017 results than his more celebrated team-mate, and with an improved bike and a healthy start should be interesting to watch in the 2018 season – which, after all, starts on Tuesday with the annual post-season test!
Behind Miller came Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Michele Pirro (Ducati test rider, again doing an amazing job at one of his few GP outings), and a surprising Tito Rabat on the second Marc VDS Honda. Like his team-mate Miller, he’ll be off to a satellite Ducati team next year.
KTM and Aprilia both had off days to end their season. KTM’s best was Bradley Smith in 11th, while both Pol Espargaro and wildcard Mika Kallio crashed out. On the Aprilia side of the garage, both riders crashed, the unfortunate Aleix Espargaro already sick as a dog with some kind of flu and still riding with pins in the hand he broke only three weeks ago. His team-mate, Brit Sam Lowes, also fell, ending a horrible season for him; he’s heading back to Moto 2 next year to replace Tom Luthi on the Interwetten Kalex team.
There are quite a number of riders swapping bikes and teams for next season. It should be entertaining to see how they all make out in their first crack at their next-year’s bikes in the test at Valencia Tuesday and Wednesday.
KTM was over the moon in Valencia, as for the third race in succession rider Miguel Oliveira grabbed victory, with team-mate Brad Binder of South Africa also collecting his third podium in a row. The two sandwiched 2017 champion Franco Morbidelli, who led about two-thirds of the race before the stalking Portuguese rider made a firm pass and quietly motored off into the distance.
Farther back, Francesco “Peco” Bagnaia completed his maiden season in Moto 2 for Valentino Rossi’s VR46 team in fine style, passing and holding off Alex Marquez for fourth. It wasn’t the day that the Marc VDS team of Morbidelli and Marquez wanted, but both riders finished well up in the points, so not all bad.
Next season will see big changes in Moto 2, with a new mix of riders – several moving up to Moto GP and being replaced by Moto 3 graduates – and technical changes to the bikes. With six KTM chassis scheduled for the class instead of two, Kalex, Speed-up, Suter and Tech 3 are going have to be hard at their drawing boards, given KTM’s amazing first season.
While the Moto 3 race featured one of the usual fairing-banging beat-’em-up events we’re used to, unusually it was for second place rather than first. Pole king Jorge Martin (he’s had nine this year), in his 50th GP, finally took his first victory after chief rival and new champion Joan Mir was forced off the track to avoid a crashing Gabriel Rodrigo – the young Argentine making far too many of these mistakes this season.
Mir ended up rejoining in 19th, and showed why he’s the new world champion by slicing his way back up to second, only 3.7 sec behind Martin. All credit to Martin; with the rest of the field slowed by Rodrigo’s incident he got a break, but made the most of it, running fastest laps (other than Mir) most of the race and doing a superb job of controlling things.
The podium was completed by Marcos Ramirez, making it an all-Spanish 1-2-3, in only the second podium of his career.
Exceptionally noteworthy rides were turned in by European Junior Cup champ Dennis “the Menace” Foggio and Red Bull Rookie champ Kazuki Masaki. The 16-year-old Foggio collected seventh in only his second wild-card ride in GP racing, and has already been chosen by Valentino Rossi to join the Sky VR46 team full-time next year. He definitely likely to shake up the veterans.
And Masaki’s ride to 10th was also impressive, the young Japanese finishing well ahead of where you’d ever expect a young wild-card to finish. He doesn’t have a full-time ride for 2018 yet, but this result should surely rectify that.
World Moto GP Championship Standings after 18 of 18 races
- Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 298 points (world champion)
- Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 261
- Maverick Viñales, Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 230
- Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 210
- Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 208
- Johann Zarco, France, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 174
- Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Ducati Team, 137
- Danillo Petrucci, Italy, Pramac Ducati, 124
- Cal Crutchlow, U.K., LCR Honda, 112
- Jonas Folger, Germany, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 84
Next race March 18, 2018, Losail Circuit, Qatar