At mid-season, it appeared the MotoGP season had devolved into predictability. With four races left, that doesn’t seem to be the case, as Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo proved yesterday.
While the Honda factory team of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa dominated the first half of this year’s schedule, the rest of the grid is catching up. In yesterday’s Spanish race, Lorenzo managed his first win of the season, Tech 3’s Aleix Espargaro (NGM Forward Racing) finished second, and Ducati’s Cal Crutchlow was third.
The race didn’t look like it would unfold that way at the start. Marquez and Pedrosa were on fire in front of their home crowd, qualifying 1-2 respectively, with Pramac Racing’s Andrea Iannone in third. Once the race started, things changed quickly. Lorenzo swiftly moved into competition with Marquez for the lead in the early laps.
Pol Espargaro (Tech 3) started in fourth but was soon battling his brother Aleix for fifth, after the older rider battled his way back up through the pack after being knocked wide after a tussle with Bradley Smith (Tech 3).
The carnage continued, with Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), who started in sixth, ending up in the weeds after running off-track and losing his traction in the grass. The Doctor had been hoping to pass Pedrosa for second place in the standings, but ended his race with a CT scan after briefly losing consciousness post-crash. He supposedly suffered a concussion, but says he feels 100 per cent fine now.
Iannone was also a victim of the grass early on, running wide during a scrap with Marquez on Lap 2 and crashing out.
With the ranks already in turmoil, things got even more interesting towards the end when the rain showed up on Lap 12, forcing Lorenzo to tone things down a bit, letting Pedrosa back into second again.
One by one, racers started dropping into the pits to swap bikes. However, the Hondas opted to try and wait it out with only a few laps to go, but Lorenzo took the 40 second pit hit and switched machines with four laps left. This proved to be decisive as both Pedrosa and Marquez battled with an ever wetting track and both crashed as a result.
Although both riders managed to get back on the track and into the pits to swap bikes, it was too little too late as Lorenzo used his fresh rain tires to build a 10-second lead and take his first victory. Marquez finished in 13th, Pedrosa in 14th, which put them in the points, Pedrosa’s giving him a slightly larger gap over fourth-place Rossi in the standings.
“Our sport is crazy and full of ups and downs,” Lorenzo said. “You have to be very focused in these conditions. Knowing when to change was very tough … I saw the time on my board and saw the times were dropping too much, I made a last second decision to swap in the box and we got some luck.”
“Today’s race was difficult because I, like many other riders in MotoGP, had never experienced track conditions like this before,” Marquez said after the race. “It was a shame that it started to rain; if it hadn’t, then I think that Dani, Jorge and I would have made the end of the race really exciting for the fans … I tried to hold on because there were only a few laps remaining, but today I learned that in these situations it is better to use a different strategy.”Pedrosa agreed that their strategy had cost them dearly.
“I made the wrong decision about when to come in to change bikes and didn’t make the switch on the lap that I should have. My tires couldn’t hold out any longer and I crashed. Luckily I was able to remount and pick up two points from this race.”
With the Hondas gone, Crutchlow and Aleix Espargero battled it out for second and third, with Crutchlow eventually slipping to third. It was his first podium visit aboard the factory Ducati.
“The first rule of racing when the conditions are like that is to stay on the bike and make no mistakes. We did that and we managed to bring Ducati to the podium,” Crutchlow said.
Espargaro, meanwhile, was ecstatic over his first-ever podium.
“Im really proud of this race, it wasn’t easy!,” he said. “I was focusing so hard. I heard Cal’s engine so I thought ‘oh no’ and opened my arms to stop him. He couldn’t change gears as we touched, so we got a little lucky because the Ducati has so much power. The last laps were the longest five laps of my life.”
Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda) managed fourth, his second of the season. Bradley Smith ended in fifth. The top 10 was rounded out by Pol Espargaro, Alvaro Bautista, Hiroshi Aoyama, Nicky Hayden and Scott Redding, in that order.
Maverick Vinales took his second win of the season. He was never fronted from the start, although Tito Rabat tried his hardest to catch up, ultimately failing but still gaining valuable points. Johann Zarco managed third after battling with Tom Luthi, who ended up in fourth. Franco Morbidelli was fifth.
Vinales’ points still weren’t enough to catch up with second-place Miko Kallio (who finished in 7th), but Rabat’s points helped solidify his lead in first. He’s now 33 points up on Kallio (278 points to 245).
Jack Miller might be moving up to MotoGP next year, but he managed to lose his Moto3 lead yesterday. He banged bikes with Alex Marquez and ended up off-track; after rejoining, he managed to finish 27th, while Roman Fenati eventually won, with Marquez second and Danny Kent third.
Not only did Marquez take a podium after trading paint, he also took the overall lead, with 206 points to Miller’s 195. Both Marquez and Miller met with Race Direction after the incident. Miller wasn’t happy, but conceded this sort of thing happens during racing, and it doesn’t sound as if there are going to be any repercussions for either rider.
With four races left, Miller will just have to work hard in the remaining time to regain his lead.
Next race: Motegi, Oct. 12
Standings, with four races remaining:
1). Marc Marquez, Honda 292
2). Dani Pedrosa, Honda 217
3). Valentino Rossi, Yamaha 214
4). Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha 202
5). Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati 142
6). Aleix Espargaro, Forward Yamaha 112
7). Pol Espargaro, Yamaha 108
8). Andrea Iannone, Ducati, 92
9). Stefan Bradl, Honda, 87
10). Bradley Smith, Yamaha, 85
1). Tito Rabat, Kalex 278
2). Miko Kallio, Kalex 245
3). Maverick Vinales, Kalex 204
4). Dominique Aegerter, Suter 143
5). Thomas Luthi, Suter 116
1). Alex Marquez, Honda 206
2). Jack Miller, KTM 195
3). Alex Rins, Honda 188
4). Romano Fenati, KTM 165
5). Efren Vazquez, Honda 154
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