Hollywood would have turned down the script as unbelievable.
Aging race star (well, 34 is pretty old in Moto GP) stages a comeback win. Put-upon English star takes pole position on a satellite bike on the last lap of qualifying. Defending world champion breaks his collar bone in Thursday practice, flies from The Netherlands to Spain to get it fixed (the operating theatre at the local hospital was tied up), and returns 36 hours after the operation to race and keep his title hopes alive.
It was Moto GP drama at its best. With Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, and Cal Crutchlow taking the top three spots, it was spitting in the face of the clinical procession that Moto GP has so often displayed in the last few years, and more power to them all.
While Valentino Rossi has to be given credit for a masterful victory – great start from the second row, jamming past Repsol Honda riders Marquez and series leader Dani Pedrosa in the first six laps and then leading to the finish with a second or two gap the whole way – the incredible story has to be the determination of Yamaha’s number one guy, Jorge Lorenzo.
Admittedly shepherded by team manager Wilco Zeelenberg, who accompanied Lorenzo to Spain and back, the Majorcan displayed an unbelievable amount of guts and determination to get back on the bike, let alone race for the podium in the early stages before slowly facing back to a seriously-impressive fifth-place finish. You try racing a 240-hp motorcycle a day and a half after breaking your collarbone and see how well you do.
Lorenzo looked a bit like a corpse after being helped off the bike but said, “This fifth position is better than any victory I have had in my career. I hope to have a good recovery for Germany, I will not be 100% but I hope to be better than here. The victory for Valentino and the third for Crutchlow are good for the Championship, I would have preferred Cal to finish in front of Marc but you can’t always have perfection! I am happy for Valentino, more than two years without winning has been hard for him so I’m happy for my … partner.”
At the sharp end, Rossi looked like the unstoppable juggernaut of years gone by. He’d said they’d found “something’ in testing recently, and this weekend – at one of his favourite tracks – it looked true. “Today was something special, this is one of the best victories in my career because it is one of the most wanted and expected for such a lot of time.
“I’m so happy because I won a real race where all my opponents were very strong and very fast, apart from Jorge with his injury. It was great from the beginning, I had a good feeling, I could overtake on braking and I felt good on the bike. It was difficult but the finish line was calling me so I had to arrive as fast as possible.”
Like all the other riders, he made a point of congratulating Lorenzo on his incredible feat.
Second was almost third, as Marc Marquez came under heavy pressure from Tech 3 Yamaha’s Cal Crutchlow in the last few laps; in fact, in the fast T-1 starting the last lap they touched slightly as Crutchlow tried to cut inside only to be stopped as Marquez moved over. The two were laughing in parc ferme after the race, so obviously no hard feelings.
Big loser on the day was Marquez’ team-mate Dani Pedrosa, who expected to open a huge gap over Lorenzo in the title chase this weekend, only to be shocked by his rival`s amazing ride and by his own mediocre performance.
He blamed cool weather for tire issues, but his team-mate Marquez didn’t mention any such problems – and Marquez was riding with a broken finger and toe. Pedrosa’s long-standing reputation for wilting under pressure may just be showing up again.
Behind the race for the podium, things stretched out and really weren’t that exciting.
Ducati had a nothing weekend, and even hard-working, pleasant, and ultra-loyal Nicky Hayden was heard mouthing about development directions at the factory. New team owner Audi must be having deep thoughts …
Lorenzo, in fifth, was followed by German Stefan Bradl on the LCR semi-factory Honda (his 90,000 Euro new Brembo brakes apparently not helping much), then Alvaro Bautista (Go &Fun Honda Gresini), Aleix Espargaro (a fantastic ride on the CRT Aspar Aprilia), Bradley Smith (the second Tech III Yamaha), and Andrea Dovizioso on the first Ducati.
If the Moto GP race was rivetting, the Moto 2 race was +1 to that.
The usual mass of evenly-matched bikes made the race from first to 10th dramatic; as the event progressed series leader Scott Redding and close protagonist Pol Espargaro (brother of Aleix in the Moto GP paddock) broke away a bit and had their own terrific contest. Espargaro took the win with a superb last-lap pass, but Redding still carries a 30-point series advantage. Both these guys deserve Moto GP rides, in my opinion.
The Moto GP race was excellent. The Moto 2 race was superb. The Moto 3 race was fantastic.
Five riders were in position to take the win on the last lap, and series leader Luis Salom, who’d also led most of the race, managed to take the victory with a totally unexpected pass before the end-of-lap-chicane that sees so much passing at Assen.
He was followed to the flag by Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins, the three finishing in order of their championship positions.
I’ve used the term “chain-saw fight in a closet” before to describe races, but I think I’ll retire it after this one; it could never be more accurate. Superb race.
Moto GP series standings after seven of 18 races
1. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 136 points
2. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 127
3. Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 113
4. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., Tech III Monster Yamaha, 87
5. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, 85
6. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Factory Team, 65
7. Stefan Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, 51
8. Nicky Hayden, U.S.A., Ducati Factory Team, 50
9. Alvaro Bautista, Spain, Go&Fun Honda Gresini Honda, 47
10. Aleix Espargaro, Spain, Power Electronics Aspar Aprilia, 44
Next event, Moto GP Deutschland, Sachsenring, July 14.
All of the races were astounding. The performance by Aleix Espargaro continues to amaze and it occurs to me that he rides the ART a lot like Lorenzo rides the M1, with sweeping 250-like lines and insane lean angle in the corners. It would be very, very interesting to possibly see him on an M1 when Vale retires.