Photo: Cal Crutchlow/Facebook
AUTOMOTODROME BRNO, Brno, Czech Republic, August 6 – Best racing of the season? Perhaps so, with three superb races delighting the crowd of nearly 90,000 at the fast and sweeping Brno track. Coming back after a month’s holiday may have charged everyone up, the weather certainly played a large role, but for whatever reason it’s going to be hard to have a race weekend to match this one during the 2017 season.
The Moto GP race victory fell to Repsol Honda star Marc Marquez, who won by more than 12 seconds after easing up from a more than 20-second lead. He was followed home by team-mate Dani Pedrosa, while Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales was another six seconds back. It’s worth noting that the result was Pedrosa’s 150th Grand Prix podium; only Valentino Rossi and Giacomo Agostini have more.
While those gaps don’t sound like there was much of a race, that would be a wrong assumption. Every rider in the field pitted to change bikes as the wet track dried, so that after about 1/4 distance you’d have thought the field had been inverted from the qualifying order – the fast guys all had to fight and claw their way up from the back of the pack after they switched to bikes with slicks and dry set-ups.
Marquez was the first to stop. One of only two riders to start on the soft option rear tire, the Spaniard got a great start but almost at once started falling back; riders who’d tried the tire in the morning practice said it was coming apart after only a couple of laps. He dove into the pits at the end of the second lap and came out on his dry bike, although the track was still wet, and in typical Marquez fashion began scything his way ahead as the track slowly dried and those in front made their own pit stops to swap bikes.
He said, “I put on the soft tire because my plan was to push for four or five laps and then go in. But it was the wrong decision, it was spinning and I lost many positions. That made me go into the box a bit earlier, but it was the only chance I had. When I came out on slicks I almost crashed three or four times, but then I started to calm down. Then one lap when I passed the pit board it said P1, plus 18 or 20 seconds and then everything was better, the sun came out!”
Cal Crutchlow had a slightly different take on the move: “I knew he (Marquez) was pitting because he never fought back! That’s not Marc’s nature and as we went into the last corner I looked across and I could see him. I thought ‘you bastard!’ because I knew he had out-foxed us again, the same as in Sachsenring last year.”
Typically, Rossi was one of the last to pit, after leading the race from the second lap – “To understand the moment is not my strong point,” he wryly conceded. By then the track had dried enough that Marquez was lapping 10 seconds faster than those on wets, and the race for the lead was effectively over by the fifth lap.
But the battle for the podium was highly entertaining, as Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia), Danilo Petrucci (Pramac Ducati), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Pedrosa, early on even Scott Redding (Pramac Ducati), Loris Baz (Avintia Ducati, and local hero Karel Abraham (his father owns the circuit) were all fighting over second and third spots, while Viñales , Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) charged up after their pit stops.
In the event, Rossi barely held off Crutchlow for fourth – the Brit riding with a “non-displaced fracture” of his T6 vertebra, to the fury of the circuit doctors – while Dovi and “Petrux” collected sixth and seventh. The ever luckless Espargaro came eighth after a three position penalty assigned after his team screwed up his pit stop and caused a near-collision with Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone that put Ianonne down and crashing into his team-mate’s stationary bike at low speed. Espargaro’s younger brother Pol collected an excellent ninth on the ever-improving KTM, while Jonas Folger (Tech 3 Yamaha) completed the top 10.
Alex Rins (Suzuki) collected an excellent result in 11th, the Spanish youngster having missed most of his rookie season in the class with injuries. Finally healthy, he’s showing himself quicker and more reliable than his more experienced but rather erratic team-mate Iannone.
The final point, for 15th place, went to Ducati’s huge money signing, Jorge Lorenzo. His performance was once again totally overshadowed by his team-mate Doviziso, who’s likely making about a quarter of the money Lorenzo is getting. In fairness, Lorenzo did lead briefly early on when the track was wettest, and lost considerable time in the pits during his bike swap as his crew wasn’t ready, but still … he’s scored half the championship points that Dovi has pocketed with the same bike, and has no wins to Dovi’s three.
The championship title chase is even tighter after Brno; Marquez is now a mere 14 points ahead of Viñales, with Dovizioso and Rossi only 13 and 14 farther back. Even Pedrosa is only 31 points back, so in truth any of those five conceivably have a shot at the title. The last eight races should be good.
The intermediate class was also badly affected by weather – or beautifully affected if you were eventual winner Tom Luthi. The Swiss had had a bad practice and qualifying and was running barely within the top 10 when the rains came, soaking the track and bringing out the red flags for a halt for safety reasons.
In the pits, the riders all swapped over to rain tires and when things restarted it was announced there’d be a six lap dash to the finish, the starting order based on the order when the flags came out. They’d only completed seven laps originally, and the six laps would bring the total number up to 60% of the total, the minimum to be counted as a complete race under the rules.
Nobody mentioned minimizing the delay in the proceedings for the benefit of the TV broadcasts, but you can believe that was definitely a consideration as well.
In the event, Luthi got the start of his life from the third row, led into the first corner, and simply motored away from everyone else, eventually grabbing a five-second lead after the six-lap race. He was followed home by Alex Marquez (Marc’s younger brother) who seems to have finally found his feet in the Moto 2 class after a rough start to the season with some injuries, while third went to Portuguese dentist-in-training Miguel Oliveira on the KTM.
Marquez’s team-mate and championship leader Franco Morbidelli didn’t get things together at all after leading the first section of the race, eventually finishing eighth. He stayed on top of the standings, but Luthi cut his lead to 17 points, with Marquez and Oliveira tied for third another 32 points back. Realistically, the battle for the title is between Morbidelli and Luthi, and since both riders may be off to Moto GP next year (Morbidelli for sure, Luthi rumoured) and neither has won a Moto 2 championship, you can believe the competition will remain fierce.
There were some fabulous rides farther back in the field. Noteworthy in particular was Remy Gardner, son of 1987 500 cc champ Wayne, who collected his best finish ever of ninth, barely held off by Morbidelli. Perhaps even more impressive was young American Joe Roberts, who collected an astounding 10th in his first ever Grand Prix after starting 20th. Long-time fans will remember other Gardner/Roberts battles 30 years ago, but while Remy is Wayne’s son Roberts is no relation to three-time champ Kenny, although he hails from the same area in southern California.
The Moto 3 race was its usual confusing mayhem, with a wet track and an early crash scrambling the usual field, and leading to considerable heroics by many riders trying to get back to their normal spot. While the race for the lead was superb, perhaps the ride of the day went to Aron Canet, the young Spaniard being forced off-track to avoid a crash on the first lap. He rejoined in 20th spot, and dragged himself up to third by the finish!
While Bo Bentsnyder and Juanfran Guevera led the most laps, championship leaders Joan Mir and Romano Fenati were never far behind, all four taking shots at leading at one time or another. In the last four laps, “Miracle” Mir (so-called by his team) ran a perfect race to hit the front and stay ahead of a charging Fenati to extend his series lead over the Italian. Mir is now 42 points ahead, almost two complete race wins. Canet, a further 22 points behind Fenati, is the only other rider with a realistic possibility of the title.
After Mir, Fenati, and Canet, a hugely disappointed Bentsnyder grabbed fourth, with Guevara just behind in fifth.
World Moto GP Championship Standings after 10 of 18 races
- Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 154 points
- Maverick Viñales, Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 140
- Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 133
- Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 132
- Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 123
- Johann Zarco, France, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 88
- Jonas Folger, Germany, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 77
- TIE, Danillo Petrucci, Italy, Pramac Ducati / Cal Crutchlow, U.K., LCR Honda, 75
- Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati Team, 66
Next race, August 13, Red Bull Ring, Austria.