Miller Reigns in the Rain
Assen is one of those racetracks where stuff happens. From Christian Sarron knocking down Freddie Spencer in 1985 to Wayne Rainey missing the chicane and letting Kevin Schwantz through to win in 1991, to Mick Doohan breaking a leg and losing the title in
THE RAIN arrived before the end of the Moto2 race and the track was soaked by the time the MotoGP grid lined up. Everyone chose wets, mostly softer compounds, but only the weather would decide who was right and who was wrong. Rossi snatched the lead at Turn One from Redding, but by lap three the Italian had succumbed to a charging Hernandez, a man with nothing to lose and everything to gain. While Hernandez disappeared into the rainy haze, Rossi had Dovizioso and Petrucci right with him. When the rain intensified Rossi eased off as the track flooded, Dovizioso went past and then the red flags came out.
Interrupted races are no longer decided on combined/aggregate time, so those 14 laps were annulled in favour of a new 12-lap race.
The grid lined up once more in the finishing order from the first 12 laps. Hernandez wasn’t there because he had crashed, twice! Iannone had also fallen in the first race but had remounted.
This time Marquez led into the first turn, but he ran wide on to the kerb, allowing Rossi and Dovizioso to pounce past. Dovizioso soon got ahead of himself, too, sliding off at the very quick Turn 12, leaving Rossi two seconds clear of Marquez, and a lap later Rossi was down. “All through practice I was very precise in my riding style and never made a mistake,” he said, “but, unfortunately, I made the mistake in the most important moment. It’s a shame because I already couldn’t hear the noise of the other bikes so I had a good advantage.”
Now Marquez was ahead but Miller was already closing. The very next lap the Aussie pushed past and Marquez made no effort to counter-attack. He knew Rossi was out and he knew Lorenzo was way back, so 20 points for second place were golden.
Of course, many expected Miller to crash; including himself. “I would’ve thought that dickhead is going to crash in two minutes,” he laughed. But the 21-year-old Australian didn’t crash; in fact, he didn’t even come close to it, despite conditions changing every lap. “I tried to keep calm because I do get a little bit excited at times,” said Miller. “We used the front tyre from the first race because it was still in a really good condition, so I had a great feeling.”
He crossed the line 1.99 seconds ahead of Marquez who celebrated as if he’d won, because he had more than doubled his points advantage over Lorenzo, who came home a humbled 10th.
Marquez was worried for one brief moment, when his pit-board told him Miller was coming. He grinned, “My first picture was Jack and Cal at Silverstone last year!” [When an overexcited Miller took out team-mate
Crutchlow in the rain-lashed British GP.] To which Miller replied,
“You were lucky!”
The battle for the last spot on the podium was more frantic, Redding squeezing past Pol Espargaro with two laps to go. The Spaniard tried to go with the Ducati but, like other M1 riders, he had no confidence in the front so he settled for fourth, well ahead of Iannone who did brilliantly considering his crash in the first race.
Avintia rider Hector Barbera was sixth on his two-year-old Ducati to preserve his championship position as top Ducati rider. Aspar Ducati rider Eugene Laverty was seventh, a second ahead of Stefan Bradl, equalling Aprilia’s best result with its new RS-GP.
Six riders crashed out in the restart: Dovizioso, Rossi, Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro, Michele Pirro, and Alvaro Bautista. Another three fell and restarted: Rabat who was 11th, Pedrosa, who was 12th and Smith who was 13th. A bitterly disappointed Petrucci went out with a bike problem.
NAKAGAMI, WHOSE TEAM is run by former Repsol Honda factory rider and 500-cc GP winner Tadayuki Okada, grabbed the lead from Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia Kalex) shortly before half-distance and quickly escaped from the pack. Reigning champ Johann Zarco (Ajo Kalex) worked hard to get Nakagami in his sights, but the rain ended his chance of a third consecutive win. However, his third podium in a row moved him into the championship lead, ahead of sixthplaced Alex Rins (HP 40 Kalex). Morbidelli was delighted to take third, his first podium result of the season, three seconds behind Zarco.
THIS WAS A TYPICALLY scary battle, with the top 10 never separated by more than a second. There was plenty of bumping and barging and plenty of crashes — a third of the 33 starters fell, even though this was the only fully dry race of the day.
Franco Bagnaia made history by winning the first GP victory for Indian factory Mahindra (albeit on a bike built in Switzerland and Italy) and he did it by inching past Andrea Migno (VR46 KTM) on the rush to the line. But Migno was docked a place for exceeding track limits on the final lap, promoting Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Honda) to second. The top three were separated by two hundredths of a second!
Runaway points leader Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM) was in the thick of it until he ran off track. He finished 12th but still increased his title lead because the closest challenger, Jorge Navarro, missed the race after breaking a leg in a training accident.