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
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.
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.
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