With rain teasing us all throughout the day, the premier class race looked like the first time the sun fully hugged the track. But the riders had little time to enjoy the sights with crucial tyre decisions still being made on the grid. Despite the surface hotting up, the soft rear was an overwhelming choice but it ended up not making that much of a difference to Marc Marquez’s sixth win of the season. The world champion spent much of the race collecting (and sharing) black marks on his leathers courtesy of the three Yamahas that followed him across the line in an epic podium fight up to the very last turn. Valentino Rossi was top dog in that fight, Maverick Viñales pipping Johann Zarco on the finish line for the final podium position.
The winner and poleman started off well but Jack Miller was eager to attack for some early home glory from fifth on the grid. On the other hand, Zarco dropped back towards the end of the top ten on the soft-soft combination after the start. Miller soon stretched a gap of almost a second at the front, with Marquez being cautious with three Yamahas in hot pursuit, Viñales guiding a quickly recovered Zarco and Rossi. The Frenchman got his softs all warmed up and looked to attack but got pushed back as he tried to benefit from Viñales’ overtake of Marquez. Meanwhile, Andrea Dovizioso had an average start but ran wide halfway through the second lap and dropped all the way back to twentieth position.
The factory Yamahas started reeling back in the leading Australian, with the world championship leader hot on their tail and Zarco fending off Aleix Espargaro close behind. Rossi got past his teammate to lead the chase on lap four, the Italian already on the back of Miller a few turns later. It looked like the Marc VDS rider’s time in the sun was done by lap six, the Australian quickly pushed back to fifth place as the two Yamahas, Marquez and Zarco got past within a few corners.
After Viñales and Rossi played around a bit, the world champion found the inside line on his compatriot to trail the leading Italian. Viñales soon had Zarco to contend with, the Frenchman getting into the top three just as the older Espargaro brother left the lead group heading into the turn one gravel trap on lap eight.
Marquez did not get a chance to attack for the lead as Zarco was keen to make an impression at the front, the Tech 3 Yamaha getting past the world champion and attacking Rossi for the lead one lap later. Rossi played his part as the Italian ran wide and let both Zarco and Marquez past. A handful of seconds down the road, Dovizioso had recovered up to twelfth place, dicing with Dani Pedrosa for a few extra points.
Back at the front, the factory Yamahas lost a position to Miller, the Australian third on lap ten, followed by Rossi and Viñales. Andrea Iannone, Cal Crutchlow and Alex Rins were also part of the lead group at this stage of the race but the trio had not shown any podium ambitions by this point.
The eight-man lead group settled a bit by lap twelve, only Rossi and Miller playing around for third spot. Rossi made it stick one lap later and fired into the lead soon after, the Italian keeping the position at the halfway point of the race. Then it was Marquez’s turn to entertain Zarco, the duo swapping second position for the next few laps. A handful of seconds down the road, Dovizioso was still showing the same pace as the leaders at this point but the Italian was struggling to get past Pedrosa.
After Zarco settled the battle with Marquez with twelve laps to go, the Frenchman attacked Rossi and Marquez lost more positions to Viñales and Iannone. As Marquez was getting in dangerous territory with the Suzuki, Dovizioso made it past Pedrosa and tried to bring back the four-second gap to the top ten.
With ten laps to go, it was Viñales’ turn to take a slice of the pie and lead the race, Rossi following closely and with Marquez and Iannone getting revenge on Zarco a few turns later. The world champion was characteristically eager while getting past Rossi, the Italian losing a bit of ground in the process. Rossi was not too fussed, a few red hot sectors quickly to his aid. And if you found the plot hard to follow up to this point, watching the actual race would have the same effect – in the best of ways.
With seven laps to go and with the tip-off point of the soft rear tyre approaching, Marquez attacked for the lead into turn four and was quickly followed by Rossi. Zarco also made an outlandish move on Viñales soon after and the momentum got the Spaniard unsettled, allowing Iannone past as well. Viñales went from the lead down to seventh place in the space of one lap, with Crutchow and Miller also going past.
Marquez was attempting to make an escape out front, half a second’s gap ahead of Zarco, aided by the Frenchman’s pestering of Rossi. The Italian not only had an eager Zarco on his heels but also a familiarly aggressive Iannone. The combination was enough to raise goosebumps on anyone following the fight, with Viñales joining the party soon after.
The world championship leader extended his gap to two second with two laps to go and it was sgain Rossi’s turn to lead the chase behind him but the Italian was too busy keeping the mad house in check to actually entertain victory expectations. Marquez crossed the line with over one and a half seconds in hand on the three Yamahas still embroiled in an epic fight.
Two seconds later, Crutchlow crossed the finish line in fifth, ahead of the early protagonists of the race, Iannone and home hero Miller. Rins eventually lost touch with the lead group but came home in a strong eighth place, followed by another good showing from the KTM of Pol Espargaro, only one hundredth of a second ahead of teammate Bradley Smith who completed the top ten.
KTM’s pride can only increase if you consider that both bikes came home well ahead of factory Ducati and Honda bikes. Dovizioso could not reduce the gap to the leaders even after he reached clean air and the Italian was overtaken by Scott Redding and Dani Pedrosa on the very last lap of the race.
The Ducati veteran’s title bid took a hit of his own doing by only finishing thirteenth, which coupled to Marquez’s victory brings the gap in the championship standings to 33 points. Viñales’ chances are done and dusted 50 points down, while Rossi’s podium puts him back ahead of Pedrosa in the battle for fourth overall.
|41||Aleix ESPARGARO||Aprilia||20 Laps|