Mo­toGP: Brno, Sil­ver­stone, San Marino

If the out­come of Mo­toGP’s re­turn to Aus­tria had Italy cel­e­brat­ing Ducati’s first tri­umph in 100 races, then the Grand Prix of the Czech Repub­lic was a re­minder that, af­ter many bar­ren years, Bri­tain can once again jus­ti­fi­ably call it­self a player in Gran

Bike India - - Contents - RE­PORT: NEIL MOR­RI­SON PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: DPPI

Mo­toGP

TRACK CON­DI­TIONS en­sured this was a real race of two halves. Upon draw­ing the cur­tains on Sun­day morn­ing, fore­cast­ers were proved right. In the morn­ing it rained. Then it rained some more. But cru­cially, and to en­sure this race was one of strat­egy, that very rain stopped an hour be­fore the flag dropped.

An­other shower was un­likely, leav­ing rid­ers pon­der­ing whether the track would dry, ne­ces­si­tat­ing a bike-swap for in­ter­me­di­ates, or even slicks. With con­di­tions in the Ger­man Grand Prix still fresh in the mem­ory, the fac­tory Du­catis, Mar­quez and Viñales all ex­pected to pit dur­ing the 22 laps.

Tem­per­a­tures had risen from morn­ing to early af­ter­noon and rain had ceased, leav­ing con­di­tions no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent from morn­ing warm-up. An­other fac­tor: this was the first premier class race to be held in out­right wet con­di­tions at the Brno cir­cuit in spite of its in­clu­sion in the GP cal­en­dar in ev­ery year since 1987, bar­ring one. Go­ing into the race, the speed at which the track dried was an un­known fac­tor.

Thus, the ma­jor­ity of the field chose Miche­lin’s soft front and rear wet. “What hap­pened be­fore the race, when the rain stopped the quan­tity of wa­ter be­came al­most zero very quick. So I think ev­ery­body was sur­prised by that and ex­pected to make flag-to-flag,” said Dovizioso. Mean­while, Lorenzo echoed many rid­ers’ thoughts on choos­ing the soft front. “We tried it in the morn­ing and at the end it was like new.” It al­most ap­peared un­think­able it could suf­fer near ter­mi­nal wear.

Sev­eral, in­clud­ing Lorenzo and Rossi, gam­bled on the harder rear, while Crutchlow, Loris Baz [Av­in­tia Ducati] and Tito Ra­bat [Marc VDS Honda] fit­ted the harder com­pound front and back. “Af­ter the warm-up it was clear that the softer front was on the limit,” said Crutchlow’s crew chief Christophe Bour­guignon. “Then when we saw that it stopped rain­ing around one o’clock, he came into the garage and said he was go­ing with that.” It proved to be an in­spired choice.

The early laps were al­ways go­ing to favour those with the softer com­pounds fit­ted. Mar­quez shot into an early lead be­fore a three-pronged Ducati attack, con­sist­ing of Ian­none, Scott Red­ding [Pra­mac Ducati] and Dovizioso, swal­lowed him whole. Surely, what they say about London buses couldn’t be the same with Ducati wins? The trio spent the first nine laps trad­ing po­si­tions, with Mar­quez, Bar­bera and Viñales never far away.

By con­trast, those early laps were sober­ing watching for the eyes of Yamaha bosses. De­spite Lorenzo’s strong start, he plum­meted down the or­der at a wor­ry­ing rate. Rossi, too, was out of his com­fort zone. “The first laps were a night­mare,” he said post-race. “I was des­per­ate.” Ten laps passed be­fore he breached the top 10. Crutchlow, mean­while, was an even more dis­tant 15th at the close of lap one. But, as Germany had shown, pa­tience was key. Soon, their tyres would come into their own.

On that same lap came the first sign of the Ducati’s use of the softer front. The hap­less Dovizioso had lit­tle choice other than pulling to the out­side of the track, af­ter a strip of the Miche­lin rub­ber had torn off. By then Crutchlow was re­ally on the move, post­ing the fastest lap the ninth time around. With Rossi not far be­hind, the pair soon bridged the gap to the lead­ing men, which, at five laps, had stood at over 10 sec­onds.

Crutchlow was by the fad­ing Red­ding — ham­pered by the same front tyre degra­da­tion as Dovizioso — on lap 14 and within two more Ian­none was

pow­er­less to re­lin­quish the lead to the English­man, that first grand prix vic­tory within his sights.

Apart from a mo­ment at Turn 10, the grip of­fered by the hard-hard tyre com­bi­na­tion on track that was dry­ing in some places, still wet in oth­ers, was enough. “The lead was 1.5 sec­onds and then a few laps later it was four,” said an ex­ul­tant Crutchlow. “But with four laps to go, I nearly had a crash. I changed to sixth gear where nor­mally we would keep fifth. So then I just said, ‘Calm down!’ But I was just cruis­ing around. Hon­estly, I made the per­fect choice.”

Be­hind, Ian­none’s front was also in trou­ble. In a shot, Rossi, who knew his tyre choice was cor­rect once he recog­nised the track was not go­ing to dry out fully, was past. “At one point I un­der­stand that, maybe, to­day doesn’t dry enough for a flag-to-flag race. From that mo­ment I know my choice was bet­ter. I just tried to ride well and didn’t make mis­takes. It was great fun,” said Rossi, who fin­ished seven sec­onds be­hind Crutchlow, his ti­tle bid gain­ing a boost of sorts.

Mar­quez had rid­den with the in­tel­li­gence and calm that have come to de­fine his sea­son through­out. The 23-year-old sought out wet pud­dles, and never overly-ex­erted his soft-soft com­bi­na­tion to score an­other cru­cial podium place. “Hon­estly, I ex­pected a flag-to-flag race but the hu­mid­ity kept it wet and it was impossible to go to slicks,” he said af­ter ex­tend­ing his ti­tle lead to 53 points. “Then when I re­alise it will be all race in wet, I said, ‘I need to man­age the tyres’.”

The ex­ten­sion of his ad­van­tage was in part due to an ap­par­ently baf­fling de­ci­sion by Lorenzo to pit for a bike swap just af­ter he had posted his fastest time. As he ran from one bike to the other, crew chief Ra­mon For­cada sig­nalled for him to stay with the first ma­chine. Re­join­ing on slicks only to pit again a lap later, Lorenzo’s chance of scor­ing points was over. Only later would his rea­son for pit­ting be­come clear.

Us­ing the same com­bi­na­tion as Crutchlow, an ad­vanc­ing Baz fin­ished a might­ily im­pres­sive fourth, just three sec­onds from the podium. “I was 13th and stopped look­ing at the pit board,” he said. “When I looked next, I was P6 and sud­denly I thought that the podium was here and I needed to push harder!” A fine day for the Av­in­tia squad, Bar­bera man­aged his soft-soft com­bi­na­tion bril­liantly for fifth, with Eu­gene Laverty [As­par Ducati] mak­ing it three Ducati GP14.2s in the top six.

Danilo Petrucci [Pra­mac Ducati] was never com­fort­able all week­end, but col­lected sev­enth, ahead of a dis­grun­tled Ian­none and Viñales, both re­lieved to fin­ish with their fronts chunk­ing. The third man to use the hard-hard com­bi­na­tion, Ra­bat was 10th.

Moto2

JUST AS JO­HANN ZARCO [Ajo Kalex] was build­ing up an un­shake­able head of steam, down came the rain. The French­man nabbed his sec­ond straight pole po­si­tion from Sam Lowes [Gresini Kalex] at the death on Satur­day. Yet on race day he was nowhere, leav­ing Jonas Fol­ger [Dy­na­volt Kalex] to break free from the off.

If any­one was handed an early morn­ing re­prieve, it was Alex Rins [Pons Kalex]. Off the pace for most of the week­end, the Spa­niard chal­lenged Fol­ger early on, be­fore the Ger­man pulled clear in wors­en­ing con­di­tions to win by a com­fort­able five sec­onds. Lowes gave chase, but he, too, had no an­swer for the man in front, leav­ing the podium po­si­tions set in place in the fi­nal laps.

“It was a fairly re­laxed race, to be hon­est, ex­cept for the last few laps, when I risked a lot to gain the four-sec­ond ad­van­tage. It was long but we fi­nally did it,” said Fol­ger, who climbs to fourth in the cham­pi­onship. Zarco’s lead over Rins, mean­while, was re­duced to 19 points.

Moto3

JUST AS BRAD BIN­DER [Ajo Red Bull KTM] had one hand on the Moto3 world cham­pi­onship, his rear Dun­lop tyre gave way, and showed that even in this year of dizzying con­sis­tency, the South African is hu­man af­ter all.

Bin­der was lead­ing in near un­der­wa­ter con­di­tions with only McPhee [Sax­o­print Peu­geot] able to give chase. That was un­til he fell foul of the wet track at Turn One with three

laps to go, leav­ing McPhee with an in­sur­mount­able eight-sec­ond lead.

Jorge Martin [As­par Mahin­dra] took ad­van­tage of wet-weather spe­cial­ist Khairul Id­ham Pawi’s [Honda Team Asia] mid-race mis­take to col­lect a début podium, af­ter hold­ing off promis­ing rookie Fabio Di Gian­nan­to­nio [Gresini Honda], who fin­ished third.

“We had a good rhythm af­ter warm-up and I just had to keep calm. I’m ab­so­lutely de­lighted to bring it home,” said McPhee, the first Scot­tish win­ner of a solo GP since 1962.

Team-mates at it again, Rossi over­takes Lorenzo early on in the race

Rossi bows down to Crutchlow af­ter the Brit con­quered Brno

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