Photo by Gold & Goose
When does guesswork become genius? When does the opposite happen? In both cases, it often involves Marc Marquez.
The Repsol Honda rider, moved by a minute of silence for late Spanish racing legend Angel Nieto before the start, decided it was a day to take risks. Or, if you prefer, to use guesswork.
The first went wrong, with a last-minute switch to a soft rear rain tyre, when everybody else (except for chancer Hector Barbera) was on the medium. Marquez surged off pole into the lead, but had lost it by the end of the lap, with major wheelspin problems causing him to lose place after place.
This triggered the second risk: at the end of lap two he dived into the pits to swap to a bike on dry tyres. It was debatable whether the track was quite dry enough, how quickly it would dry, or even whether it might not start to sprinkle again. But this was a day for risks, not debate.
In fact, he had given away positions suspiciously tamely. Almost as though he had decided to pit at the beginning of the lap, and didn’t want any of the front guys to follow him in. Clever tactics indeed.
The Repsol Honda rider survived a few near crashes on his first couple of laps on slicks, as the rest of the riders also changed bikes, and then “I calmed down – and saw my pit board, something like 18 seconds lead.”
It had been a masterstroke.
It was only his third win of the year, but his second in a row, and extended his championship lead v– acquired only one race ago – to 14 points.
Rossi had been second on the grid, Pedrosa third, with Dovizioso’s Ducati leading row two.
Marquez got his bike-swap timing perfect. A few other riders followed him in at the end of lap two, but for some of them it didn’t work. Notably his main rival at the last round in Germany. Jonas Folger’s Monster Yamaha team weren’t ready for a bike-swap, and he had to go out and do another lap, ruining his afternoon.
There were other bike-change mishaps – most notable a long-feared collision between a departing Aleix Espargaro’s Aprilia and the incoming Ecstar Suzuki of Andrea Iannone. Iannone fell, and in the process knocked over team-mate Alex Rins’s bike, damaging the handlebar slightly. Luckily neither he nor any of his team was badly hurt, but he was knocked about, and lost a lot of time.
It could be a valuable lesson for teams to tighten up their rider-release practices closer to F1 standards. As it was, the Aprilia team were blamed, and Espargaro punished by having to drop three places.
Ducati’s factory team was also in a muddle. Neither of the spare bikes for Andrea Dovizioso nor Jorge Lorenzo were set up for the dry. Lorenzo took the lead from Marquez on lap one and stayed there for three laps. Then he called in, and had to wait while the crew completed the set-up process, spoiling all his chances of a strong debut for the new aero-body Duke with its box-kite addendums.
Dovi stayed out for five laps, rather too long, waiting for his bike to be prepared.
He was however not the only one to lose time by delaying the switch.
Pol Espargaro, Miller and Smith had stopped on lap two behind Marquez; Redding, Aleix Espargaro, Abraham, Iannone, Barbera, Lowes and Folger (again) on lap three; and on lap four Lorenzo, Petrucci, Vinales, Crutchlow, Rins, Pedrosa, Baz, Bautista and Rabat.
But Valentino Rossi also waited until lap five (when Barbera called in for a second time); and Johan Zarco waited until lap six, and was now miles behind, because riders on slicks were lapping much better than ten seconds faster.
By lap seven, when everyone was sorted out, Marquez was almost 20 seconds clear, and Aleix Espargaro had taken second from Scott Redding (Pramac Ducati), with Karel Abraham fourth and Dani Pedrosa catching up fast behind.
You can see where this is going. Pedrosa was rapidly up to second; while Danilo Petrucci (Pramac Honda) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) were soon to follow him through. Movistar Yamaha team-mates Maverick Vinales and Rossi were at this point tenth and 13th, but also setting about moving forward.
If a capacity crowd was denied a close battle for the lead, they did at least see plenty of overtaking as the usual order re-established itself.
Nobody could catch Pedrosa, with Petrucci acting as a buffer behind him, until finally on lap 16 Crutchlow managed to get by, saying later: “It’s very hard to pass the Ducati in a straight line.”
By then, however, Vinales was “getting a better feeling after the tyres got warm”, and was ahead of both of them, to escape for third. It marked a return to early season form. “Maybe I changed one lap too late, but I am happy to recover my feeling and confidence,” he said. He set fastest lap on the 17th of 22.
Rossi was also closing, making up for his poor decision and late bike change.
His last obstacle was Crutchlow, and he was in a position to attack as they started the last lap, scything past into the stadium section for a potentially valuable fourth.
“For sure, a flag-to-flag isn’t our strongest point,” he said. In the end, the result is not so bad. I think that before the end of my career we can defeat this flag-to-flag situation.”
Dovizioso had followed him along, and passed Petrucci for sixth with two laps to go; Aleix just held off Pol’s Red Bull KTM in a brotherly Espargaro battle for eighth.
Three seconds behind, Folger had been steadily recovering lost ground from his two pit stops, getting ahead of team-mate Zarco and then also closing on a fading Jack Miller (EG-VDS Honda), the Australian complaining of grip problems from a bad rear tyre.
Folger’s last victim, for tenth, was Alex Rins (Ecstar Suzuki), on the last lap. Zarco was 12th, then Abraham, Miller and a distant and depressed Lorenzo, taking the last point.
Even more downhearted, Redding had dropped to 16th, ahead of Rabat, Lowes, Iannone and Barbera. Smith retired the second KTM, Baz and Bautista crashed out.
For once, an unpredictable race could not be blamed on Michelin, though choice of Michelins had been crucial.
The title battle opened up a little, with Marquez on 154, Vinales 14o, Dovizioso 133, Rossi 132, and Pedrosa a bit closer on 123.
Moto2 Race – Six Laps (shortened), 32.418 km
Old warhorse Mattia Pasini claimed his first pole since Australia in 2007 (in the 125 class), but it came to nothing for the 31-year-old Italtrans Kalex rider, on a day when third qualifier and title leader Franco Morbidelli (EG-VDS Kalex) suffered badly. The luck turned instead in favour of his closest title rival Thomas Luthi (CarXpert Kalex).
It was all down to the weather, with Moto2 the hardest hit in a difficult day of changing conditions.
The race started in the dry, with Pasini leading the first six laps. Then it started to rain, and he was the first to put his hand up, dropping to fourth at the end of lap seven behind new leader Morbidelli, front-row starter Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) and Alex Marquez (EG-VDS Kalex).
By now other riders were also gesturing, and the red flags came out with 13 of the scheduled 20 laps still remaining.
A six-lap sprint was scheduled, by when the track was starting to dry a little. It was now that Luthi made an important decision. He’d climbed from 12th on the grid to seventh, and fitted a used wet tyre, while most of the other front men fitted new ones.
It made half the difference. The rest came from a blazing start, with Luthi going straight from the third row into the lead, and able to build on it straight away. He rapidly outdistanced second-placed Marquez, who in turn stretched away from Oliveira.
Unlucky Pasini, forced to start from row two, did not finish the first lap, sliding out at the bottom of the hill.
The top three positions did not change to the end, Luthi almost five seconds clear at the end.
The action behind was like a club race, and Morbidelli was the loser, finishing lap one fourth, but directly swamped by the pack. Pecco Bagnaia (SKY VR46 Kalex) was the first to take over, but he lost out next time round to Luca Marini (Forward Kalex), who held on for a career-best finish.
Morbidelli was back to ninth by the end of lap two, while Xavi Vierge (Tech 3) cut through the swarm to fifth. Fabio Quartararo (Pons Kalex) was in the group, but punted off to drop back out of the points.
This promoted Morbidelli to eighth, but he was not only unable to catch Simone Corsi (Speed Up) and Bagnaia ahead of him (Corsi taking sixth halfway through), but had his hands full fending off an on-form Remy Gardner (Tech 3).
GP beginner Joe Roberts (AGR Kalex) was an impressive tenth, a couple of tenths adrift; then class rookies Jorge Navarro (Gresini Kalex) and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM), with Locatelli, Pawi and Syahrin taking the rest of the points, all up close.
Luthi’s first win backed by a string of five second places brought him to within 17 points of long-time points leader and six-times winner Morbidelli, 182 to 165. Marquez and Oliveira have 133 points, then Bagnaia 87.
Moto3 Race – 19 laps, 102.657 km
First-time pole qualifier Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA KTM) broke a season-long run of Honda poles, but it was business as usual on race day, with the eighth all-Honda podium lock-out, and a sixth win for runaway title leader Joan Mir.
It didn’t come easy, on a drying track.
The first leader was second RBA rider Juanfran Guevara, also off the front row, and he went to and fro with Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM), the pair even threatening to break away as Romano Fenati (Rivacold Honda), Mir (Leopard Honda), Marcos Ramirez (Platinum Bay KTM) and for a while rookie Nakarin Atiratphuvapat (Team Asia Honda) battled behind them.
By half distance though Fenati and Mir had closed up again, and it was a four-way battle of much variety.
Mir took the lead for the first time on lap 16 and put the hammer down. Only Fenati could go with him, and was still three tenths behind over the line.
By now, Aron Canet (EG Honda) had arrived, after a remarkable ride through from 19th in the early stages. He closed the gap on the pursuit pair with three laps to go, and got past both of them for the last podium spot on the last lap.
Bendsneyder narrowly beat Guevara.
Last year’s winner John McPhee (BTT Honda) also came through, from 17th on the grid, for sixth, ahead of Ramirez. Tatsuki Suzuki (Sic58 Honda) was close, likewise Adam Norrodin (SIC Honda) and Atiratphuvapat in tenth. Mugello winner Migno (SKY KTM) had caught right up for 11th; with Albert Arenas (Aspar Mahindra) 12th – a good showing for the returned injury victim, after a penalty forced a back-of-the-grid start.
Mir has a 42-point lead, 190 to Fenati on 148. Canet is on 126, then McPhee 93 and Martin 89. Martin withdrew from the race on Friday, still suffering from his German GP injuries.
MONSTER ENERGY GRAND PRIX ČESKÉ REPUBLIKY
MotoGP Race Classification 2017
Brno, Sunday, August 06, 2017