Mo­toGP: Spain

Marc Mar­quez eased his way to a sec­ond straight win of 2018, danc­ing vic­to­ri­ously across the line in front of a home crowd at Jerez to as­sume con­trol of the ti­tle race

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Mo­toGP

Three races in, and it had be­come al­most painful to wit­ness the con­tin­ued strug­gles of Lorenzo at Du­cati. A measly six points from the first three out­ings were a sorry show­ing for a rider of his abil­ity. The con­tin­ued whis­pers link­ing his name with Suzuki for 2019 un­der­lined his cur­rent strug­gles to adapt the GP18 to his la­conic high cor­ner-speed style. But his ef­fort was never lack­ing. Free prac­tice had seen a wel­come re­turn to form and, de­cid­ing to fit Miche­lin’s soft front tyre — a gamble as track tem­per­a­tures peaked at 113 de­grees Fahren­heit — on the grid, the Ma­jor­can’s strat­egy for the 25-lap out­ing soon be­came clear.

It was vin­tage Lorenzo from the off, the num­ber 99 claim­ing an early lead with a close pack of Pedrosa, Zarco, Mar­quez, Crutchlow, and Rins close be­hind. But the Du­cati man never had the pace to break clear, the Du­cati’s top speed ad­van­tage along the front and back straight just enough to ward off late-brak­ing moves from the pack be­hind. The pace wasn’t slow ei­ther; it soon be­came clear that many were on the limit with the front tyre and the crashes be­gan rapidly tot­ting up.

Rins was the first high-pro­file vic­tim, los­ing the front through Turn 11 on lap six. Zarco was for­tu­nate in the ex­treme he hadn’t suf­fered a sim­i­lar fate the lap be­fore while brak­ing for Dry Sack. The French­man had to sit up after los­ing the front, re­join­ing be­hind Dovizioso, who, in turn, was quickly ap­proach­ing the lead­ing group from eighth. Crutchlow soon fol­lowed suit, los­ing the front and slid­ing out of fourth at Turn One as he scram­bled to keep pace with the Rep­sol Hon­das ahead.

The pole man was in no doubt when de­tail­ing the cause of his crash soon after: ‘Dani and Marc are not leav­ing any black lines on the cir­cuit any­where,’ he said, re­fer­ring to their use of the car­bon swingarm. ‘They had bet­ter grip. I had to force the is­sue to make up the time in the brak­ing all the time and over­heated the front tyre as usual.’

Crutchlow’s exit al­lowed Dovizioso to close fur­ther in, a feat in it­self with Jerez favour­ing nei­ther Du­cati nor the Ital­ian’s

brak­ing-heavy riding style in pre­vi­ous years. As Zarco held his pace just over a sec­ond back, the 68,000 in at­ten­dance were primed for a vin­tage Hon­daDu­cati scrap.

‘It was al­most im­pos­si­ble to over­take Lorenzo,’ said Mar­quez soon after. ‘He was brak­ing so late and ex­it­ing the cor­ners so well. When I saw that his tyre started to drop, I said, “Okay, now it’s time to lead the race and try to open a gap”.’

A move at the fi­nal hair­pin ar­rived with the min­i­mum of fuss on lap eight. And soon he was off and riding into the dis­tance, his only con­cern com­ing on lap 13, a ter­ri­fy­ing slide on the en­try to Turn 12 as he en­coun­tered dirt on the rac­ing line, kicked up by Thomas Luthi’s (Marc VDS Honda) spill at the same cor­ner the lap be­fore. ‘I saw many stones on the track,’ Mar­quez re­called, ‘but it was too late. Both wheels slid, but I stayed on.’

At­ten­tions then turned to the bat­tle for sec­ond. Clearly, Dovizioso and Pedrosa had the su­pe­rior pace to Lorenzo, but the Ma­jor­can would not re­lent. In spite of his soft front wear­ing, his brak­ing prow­ess re­mained, frus­trat­ing his team-mate be­hind. Eight laps from the flag, it re­ally kicked off. A lunge by Dovizioso at Dry Sack pushed both Du­catis wide. Sens­ing an op­por­tu­nity to take two-in-one, Pedrosa aimed for the mid­dle of the track, only to find Lorenzo cut­ting back. A col­li­sion sent the Rep­sol Honda rider fly­ing and Lorenzo into Dovizioso’s path. Both Du­catis joined Pedrosa in the gravel, their podium hopes dis­solv­ing in a plume of dust.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, all three took dif­fer­ing approaches to ap­por­tion­ing blame. ‘Dani en­tered faster than nor­mal be­cause he wanted to stop the lines,’ ex­plained Dovizioso, who had been seek­ing a first ever Mo­toGP podium at Jerez. ‘But Jorge didn’t care about the rider be­hind him and he cut the line too fast.’ Pedrosa of­fered, ‘All right, maybe Lorenzo didn’t see me — but he didn’t pick up the bike and “boom!”’

Mean­while, the num­ber 99 re­vealed he was unaware Pedrosa was in the bat­tle, after hav­ing asked his me­chanic to only dis­play the num­ber of the rider di­rectly be­hind on his pit board. Race Di­rec­tion saw fit to pe­nal­ize none of the three, with Race Di­rec­tor Mike Webb rightly stat­ing, ‘I don’t think any of the riders made ridicu­lous ma­noeu­vres that had zero chance of com­ing off.’

From there, Mar­quez cruised to a five-sec­ond win with Zarco in­her­it­ing a some­what for­tu­nate sec­ond. ‘It was a race about be­ing pre­cise and mak­ing the cor­rect de­ci­sion on ev­ery lap, and I did it,’ said the Cata­lan, now lead­ing the ti­tle race, 12 points clear of the French­man. ‘I was try­ing to catch the podium group,’ said Zarco. ‘I saw it was pos­si­ble. But I could not be­lieve it when all three went down. I got this chance and grabbed it.’

Three sec­onds later, Ian­none re­cov­ered from a lousy open­ing to pass Petrucci on the penul­ti­mate lap for Suzuki’s third straight podium — the first time such a run had oc­curred for the fac­tory since 2008. A late switch to Miche­lin’s hard rear on the grid had cost him, Ian­none ex­plained. ‘All race I strug­gled a lot on the ac­cel­er­a­tion point but we had some luck to take this podium.’ Petrucci’s valiant ride re­sulted in fourth — ‘worse than sec­ond… fourth is like, “you are very good, now leave!”’ — just ahead of Rossi and a resur­gent Jack Miller (Pra­mac Du­cati), who saved some face for the Bologna man­u­fac­turer, back­ing up his team-mate with sixth.

Viñales was a dis­tant sev­enth, 13 sec­onds be­hind the race win­ner and just ahead of Al­varo Bautista (An­gel Ni­eto Team Du­cati). Rookie Franco Mor­bidelli (Marc VDS Honda) com­pleted ‘my best week­end in Mo­toGP’ with ninth as KTM test rider Mika Kal­lio beat full­time riders Pol Es­par­garo and Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM) to 10th.

Moto2

Just which way the 2018 Moto2 ti­tle will go re­mains any­one’s guess after Lorenzo Bal­das­sarri (Pons Rac­ing Kalex) romped to his first grand prix tri­umph out­side Italy, an­nounc­ing him­self as a cer­ti­fied ti­tle con­tender in the process. This had promised to be­come a three-way fight at the front, as Miguel Oliveira (Ajo Red Bull KTM) fought his way through to sec­ond from 14th on the grid and pre-race favourite Alex Mar­quez (Marc VDS Kalex) shad­owed Bal­das­sarri’s early lead.

How­ever, Mar­quez’s pre­vi­ously held rep­u­ta­tion for crash­ing out at key mo­ments re­turned on lap 11, as he slid out at Turn Two, al­low­ing Francesco Bag­naia (SKY Rac­ing VR46 Kalex) into third. Nei­ther the Ital­ian nor Oliveira had an an­swer for Bal­das­sarri, how­ever, who broke clear to claim a pro­ces­sional win by 2.8 sec­onds. ‘I man­aged the race well. It wasn’t easy in the heat and with the wind,’ said Bal­das­sarri. ‘I kept calm, stayed strong and it’s im­por­tant to keep go­ing like this.’

Amer­i­can Joe Roberts (RW Rac­ing NTS) crashed at

Turn One while hold­ing 17th.

Moto3

This was shap­ing up to be a six-rider shoot-out in a typ­i­cally fre­netic Moto3 show­ing. That was un­til bad boy of the class, Aron Canet (Estrella Gali­cia Honda), tor­pe­doed three other men at Dry Sack hair­pin, in­clud­ing ti­tle con­tenders Jorge Martin (Gresini Honda) and Enea Bas­tian­ini (Leop­ard Honda), four laps from the flag. The move earned the Cata­lan a penalty, forc­ing him to start the next race from the back of the grid.

With the coast then rel­a­tively clear, Philipp Oettl (Schedl GP KTM) was left to de­fend a late Marco Bezzec­chi (PruestelGP KTM) at­tack at the fi­nal turn on the fi­nal lap to claim a first grand prix win by 0.059 sec­onds. Mar­cos Ramirez (Bester Cap­i­tal Dubai KTM) was handed third de­spite cross­ing the line fourth. Tal­ented rookie Alonso Lopez (Estrella Gali­cia Honda) fought hard for the podium place, and cel­e­brated ac­cord­ingly, but Race Di­rec­tion saw fit to de­mote him a place for ex­ces­sively ex­ceed­ing track lim­its.

‘It feels just great to be on the podium with our small team,’ Oettl said. ‘I got hit on the first lap, dropped back but fought hard. Some­thing hap­pened be­hind be­cause I heard no noise. But what a re­lief!’

Zarco (5) rode a lonely race once Marc Mar­quez slipped into the lead

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