Lit­tle Samu­rai Wins Big GP

Rac­ing is mostly about num­bers, but this year’s Span­ish GP was more than ever about num­bers. The Mo­toGP race was the 3,000th Grand Prix race since world cham­pi­onship rac­ing be­gan on the Isle of Man in June 1949. Dorna marked the oc­ca­sion by bring­ing in Gi



cor­ner. Pe­drosa was back to his old self; not only had he found his old speed, he was also un­beat­able away from the line. He led the en­tire race. It was no pushover, how­ever. He was un­der huge pres­sure through­out, with Mar­quez chas­ing hard, re­fus­ing to give up the hunt, even though Pe­drosa’s medium rear al­lowed him to es­tab­lish an early lead over his team-mate, whose more ag­gres­sive tech­nique forced him to use the hard rear.

By lap three the gap was 1.5 sec­onds and it stayed around that mark for most of the race, un­til Mar­quez did fi­nally wave the white flag three laps from the end, quite sen­si­bly pre­fer­ring 20 points to a face full of gravel.

Pe­drosa was de­lighted with his 30th Mo­toGP win, and with good rea­son: he had sim­ply out­rid­den ev­ery­one. “The race wasn’t as easy as it looked,” he said (as if that ever needs say­ing). “The track wasn’t as grippy as it had been in prac­tice, be­cause of the tem­per­a­ture, so it was dif­fi­cult to man­age the medium rear tyre. I was try­ing not to stress the tyre too much. Marc closed the gap a lit­tle, but I had to keep my pace, even though the hard front was also crit­i­cal in some cor­ners. At one point I was off the track and lost a few tenths.”

Sec­ond place for Mar­quez was good enough to move him to within two points of Viñales and four of leader Rossi. “Jerez is one of the more dif­fi­cult tracks for my rid­ing style,” said the reign­ing cham­pion. “The rear worked quite well but it took time to warm up. My lim­i­ta­tion was the front tyre. Any­way, I’m re­ally happy to be four points be­hind the leader.”

Lorenzo proved his class to score his first Du­cati podium and si­lence the doubters, al­beit 14.7 sec­onds be­hind the win­ner. He rode a bril­liantly judged race, choos­ing the medium front in­stead of the hard, as used by all the fac­tory Honda and Yamaha rid­ers and by his team-mate, An­drea Dovizioso. He picked his way through from eighth on lap one, pass­ing Rossi (which must have felt es­pe­cially good), Viñales and An­drea Ian­none (Ec­star Suzuki), his su­per-smooth rid­ing style mak­ing him look slower than he ac­tu­ally was. “Some peo­ple spoke too early and now they must eat their words,” he said. “I was sur­prised I could over­take peo­ple, but the pace was quite slow be­cause of the heat.”

His fi­nal vic­tim was Zarco, the real hero of the race for many. The French­man’s first few laps were glo­ri­ous: he over­took Rossi twice on the first lap,

then Crutchlow, Ian­none and Viñales on lap two and Mar­quez on lap four! For a mo­ment it looked as if he might chase down Pe­drosa, but he couldn’t main­tain the pace and dropped back be­hind Mar­quez, then suc­cumbed to Lorenzo. His best-yet fourth-place fin­ish com­peted the best start to a rookie cam­paign since Lorenzo and Mar­quez. But the twice Moto2 champ re­mained as cool as ever. “At the be­gin­ning of the race, my feel­ing was great and I felt very com­fort­able,” he said. “I was able to over­take some of the top guys and then when I was sec­ond, I still felt good. How­ever, I al­most crashed twice, which al­lowed Marc to over­take me and from that mo­ment I couldn’t push any more on the front be­cause I was re­ally on the limit.”

Dovizioso sur­prised him­self with fifth place, at one of his least favourite cir­cuits, but he prob­a­bly wasn’t as sur­prised as Viñales, who slumped to sixth, his pace al­most a sec­ond slower than Pe­drosa’s. And this af­ter he had topped morn­ing warm-up when the track was much cooler. “I had no feel­ing from the front tyre from the start,” he said. “The Yamaha is nor­mally good in fast cor­ners but I nearly crashed at Turn 11 [a fast right, three cor­ners from the fin­ish] on three oc­ca­sions.” The fol­low­ing day Viñales tested in sim­i­lar con­di­tions with the same tyre choice and was much faster, which sug­gests he may have raced with a dud front tyre.

At least he didn’t suf­fer as badly as team-mate Rossi, who went back­wards as the race went on: fifth on lap 10, 10th at the fin­ish. “It was a very, very dif­fi­cult week­end and a very, very dif­fi­cult race,” he said with a sigh. “We mod­i­fied the bal­ance of the bike to re­duce spin in the lefts but it was even worse. By the end I felt vi­bra­tion from the rear tyre and we were lucky to fin­ish.”

Rossi’s fi­nal laps were three to four sec­onds slower than the win­ner’s, which al­lowed Aleix Es­par­garo (Aprilia) to nip past. The next day he also took part in the post-race tests, try­ing dif­fer­ent set­tings, a re­vised chas­sis and Miche­lin’s stiffer front slick. But he left Jerez still look­ing for an­swers.

Danilo Petrucci (Pra­mac Du­cati) was the sec­ond best in­de­pen­dent fin­isher, rid­ing a typ­i­cally ag­gres­sive race which very nearly got him past Viñales in the fi­nal laps. Ian­none, who had sur­prised

with his sec­ond-row start, was one of sev­eral crash­ers along with Crutchlow, who went down while chas­ing the lead group — Tito Ra­bat (Estrella Gali­cia Honda), Pol Es­par­garo (KTM), and Al­varo Bautista (As­par Du­cati) — who took out Jack Miller (Estrella Honda).

Miller gave Bautista a hefty shove as they climbed to their feet in the gravel trap. The Aus­tralian was fined €1,000 for this mis­de­meanour, but Bautista es­caped sanc­tion for caus­ing the ac­ci­dent.

Mar­quez (93) and Zarco’s (5) fight was worth a watch in the 3000th GP

Miller and Lorenzo came into con­tact at the start of the race

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