Best racing of the year? Certainly the most unpredictable and dramatic. Heavy rain showers – at one point escalating to heavy hail – made both the Moto GP and Moto 2 races serious toss-ups, while the Moto 3 race, run in cool sunny conditions before the rains came in, turned into a crashfest the like of which hasn’t been seen since the first season of the new junior formula.
The feature race started with a wet but slowly drying track; most riders elected to start on wets but a couple, including Valentino Rossi, gambled on slicks. It was a mistake, but still probably led to the best ride of the day.
A short but heavy rain shower as the sighting lap started made the slicks a bad choice, and Rossi dived into the pits to swap bikes (the Moto GP class swaps machines rather than just tires) before the start, meaning he had to start dead last from pit lane.
He scythed his way through the field, continuing that performance level even after the rain stopped and everyone swapped back to dry bikes, mostly on lap six of the 24. Fifth position was like a win for the Italian, given what had happened. “You know, I took a risk because the conditions looked good but unfortunately one minute before the start it started to rain again so I had to change bike and start from last. It’s a shame because if I had started with the wets I could stay in front with the top guys. Anyway … I’m quite satisfied with the rest of the race because I had good pace and a good feeling with the bike.”
The victory fell, once again, to defending champion Marc Marquez, who produced his own master class performance in difficult conditions, to make it eight wins from eight races in 2014. He was followed on to the podium by Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) after an entertaining flag-to-flag (bike swapping) contest.
Marquez judged the 26-lap challenge to perfection, running with Dovizioso at the front in the early stages and asserting his authority as the riders changed to dry set-up machines on the seventh lap.
Marquez eventually clinched the win by 6.7s seconds with a delighted Dovizioso on the rostrum for the second time in 2014, with Marquez’ Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa completing the podium after holding off the pursuing Aleix Espargaro (NGM Forward Racing). Espargaro, who’d grabbed the pole position, rode a superb race to hold fourth.
Andrea Iannone (Pramac Racing), Alvaro Bautista (GO&FUN Honda Gresini), Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech3), Cal Crutchlow (Ducati Team) and Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP) completed the top 10.
Broc Parkes (Paul Bird Motorsport) rode superbly to 11th, having started from pit lane following a problem on the warm up lap.
Conditions were much trickier for the Moto2 riders. Rain and hail came down heavily before the race, leading to several crashes on the warm-up laps and a decision to delay the race. At the start the track was still soaking, but starting to dry – it was an agonizing tire choice situation. As it happened, most went with wets and continued even as the track became quite dry toward the end.
Victory went to popular Australian veteran Anthony (Ant) West, taking his second-ever GP win in a long career. His only previous victory was 11 years ago to the day, in a 250 cc GP event at Assen in the soaking rain.
West took advantage of considerable mayhem at the front, finally running a tight and controlled race to barely hole off a charging Maverick Vinales and Mika Kallio, third and second respectively in the series to date. Leader Tito Rabat, Kallio’s team-mate, was one of those who suffered a huge crash in the early warm-up laps before the delay, and took it relatively easy in the race. Eighth still gave him good points in the championship, however, and he’s still a race-win’s worth ahead of his Marc VDS team-mate Kallio.
The Moto3 riders had conditions easiest of all. Things were cool but sunny, but the crashfest that ensued was more like a heavy rain event. It started when series leader Jack Miller made a rare error while leading early on, crashing out of the race. He was fortunate that his main rival, Romano Fenati on Valentino Rossi’s VR46 SKY team, also crashed out – twice, in fact.
The day belonged to the Hondas, with Alex Marquez making it another family double with a strong ride to a dominant victory ahead of his team-mate Alex Rins and Portugal’s Miguel Olivera on the Indian Mahindra grabbing third.
With two Hondas and a Mahindra on the podium, this was the first ever Moto3 race where a KTM engine did not power any of the podium bikes.
Miller still leads the standings by a narrow seven points ahead of Fenati and Marquez, who are tied for second.
Moto GP championship standings after eight of 18 races
1. Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 200 points
2. TIE, Valentino Rossi, Italy, Yamaha Factory Racing, / Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 128
4. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Racing Team, 91
5. Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Yamaha Factory Racing, 81
6. Aleix Espargaro, Spain, NGM Forward Racing Yamaha, 67
7. Pol Espargaro, Spain, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 58
8. Stefan Bradl, Germany, LCR Honda, 56
9. Andrea Iannone, Italy, Pramac Ducati, 51
10. Bradley Smith, U.K., Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 48
Next event July 13, Sachsenring, Germany.