While the fifth round of the Moto GP world championship was in some ways a bit processional in terms of race order, it was more than livened up by considerable action from start to finish, none of it scripted or expected.
To get the basics out of the way first, Jorge Lorenzo jammed his factory Yamaha past Dani Pedrosa’s fast-starting Repsol Honda on the second corner of the first lap and led to the flag, making it three victories in a row for him at that track.
“The key of the race was in the middle,” said the defending world champion, “where I improved my riding, I was able to brake later with less fuel in the tank so I was able to improve the lap time by two tenths, from this moment Dani gave up a little pace and I could get away and win the race, more or less like last year. It’s very special; I won the last three years here so this track is magic for me and very positive for Yamaha.”
Pedrosa finished second, right up Lorenzo’s exhaust pipe till mid-distance, when the Yamaha rider suddenly speeded up for several laps and drew away, aided by a couple of small errors from Pedrosa. Tough-guy Brit Cal Crutchlow clawed his way back from a bad start on his satellite Tech 3 Yamaha to grab the last podium spot.
Ah, but the operatic drama started on lap one and continued nearly to the finish. Even prior to race day there’d been considerable drama, as wunderkind Marc Marquez had crashed three times, once at about 280 km when he went off-track at the end of Mugello’s fearsome straight. Miraculously, he suffered only an abraded chin and a sore neck.
Andrea Dovizioso added to the excitement with a huge crash of his own, also injuring his neck to the point he feared he wouldn’t be able to ride. In the event, he did a gutsy job to qualify his Ducati on the front row, than hang on for a final fifth place after a back and forth scrap with team-mate Nicky Hayden.
On race day, Lorenzo’s jam-pass on Pedrosa – who had to sit up mid-corner to avoid hitting his fellow Spaniard – just started the action, as one corner later Alvaro Bautista flipped his Honda right, apparently not noticing that Valentino Rossi was already there. The two hit hard, Bautista falling immediately, while Rossi was pitched off into the gravel at high speed, falling as he hit the barriers. Remarkably, neither rider was injured.
Each blamed the other. Race Control deemed it a racing accident; I’d agree, but add that Bautista made an extremely stupid or careless move. Seems to be a bit of a first-lap habit of his, as he scuttled off Jorge Lorenzo last year at Assen in an equally dim fashion.
The mid-race action focused on German Stefan Bradl with his factory LCR Honda fighting with the Ducatis of Dovizioso and Hayden, and Crtuchlow’s chase up the field after his bad start. And what about Marquez? Even as battered as he must have felt he was right on Pedrosa’s tail, sitting in third close enough to reach over and touch his team-mate at times. When Lorenzo started to split, it was obvious that Marquez decided he needed to get by, eventually doing so cleanly and setting off after the leading Yamaha.
Then he crashed again two laps later, also hard and again without injuring himself. That let Pedrosa back into second, and Crutchlow, who was closing fast, decided that a sure podium was better than a possible second and followed him home.
He said, “I’m sorry Marc crashed because he was doing an amazing job again but to be honest I felt I could have caught Dani and taken third anyway. When I saw Marc crash I slowed down to not risk losing a second podium in a row, which is a fantastic achievement for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team and me.”
The results closed up the championship points a bit, with Pedrosa still leading but Lorenzo moving closer and Marquez dropping back, with Crutchlow close behind him and well ahead of fifth-place Dovizioso.
The Moto 2 race brought the second win in succession – and his first two ever – for Brit Scott Redding on his Marc VDS team bike. The double win gives him a 43 point series lead over Nico Terol, who finished second to Redding at Mugello.
Moto 3 was another close-quarters scrap, with as many as seven riders battling for the win. At the flag, Luis Salom claimed his second win of the season, the Red Bull KTM Ajo rider finishing just ahead of Estrella Galicio racer Alex Rins and Team Calvos Maverick Vinales, who retains his championship lead.
World Championship Standings (after five of 18 races):
1. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 103 points
2. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 91
3. Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 77
4. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 71
5. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 50
6. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 47
7. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Ducati Team, 45
8. Alvaro Bautista, Spain, Go & Fun Gresini Honda, 38
9. Stefan Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, 30
10. Aleix Espargaro, Spain, Power Electronics Aspar ART Aprilia,28
Next race Spain, Catalunya Circuit, June 16.