A fairly hot Le Mans welcomed the premier class for what was basically Marc Marquez being forced into a demolition job – only metaphorically – by some unexpected mistakes from his rivals. The Spaniard fought his way into the lead and once there, he sailed home to equal Casey Stoner as the fifth most successful rider in the premier class, with win number 38 in his pocket and on a track that should not have been friendly to the Honda. Despite people questioning his tire choice, Danilo Petrucci turned out to be the world champion’s main challenger and second best on the day. Valentino Rossi saved the week for Yamaha, bringing home an unlikely-looking podium.
In a flashback from two weeks ago, Jorge Lorenzo was a featured protagonist for a big part of the race as he shot into the lead at the start. Marquez had briefly gotten past poleman Johann Zarco but the Frenchman determinately pushed back past Marquez to retrieve second. Andrea Iannone was also in the mix at the start but the Italian could not complete the podium hattrick and did not see the end of lap one. The Italian’s fall costed Marquez a few places, dropping him back to fifth and briefly battling Rossi.
Lorenzo’s dream start was about to be turned down a notch by Zarco glued on his tail and both closely followed by Andrea Dovizioso. The two Ducati teammates were soon joined at the front while Marquez looked like he was being careful with his hard rear tire selection but was slowly getting back into the fight after dropping over a second to the podium battle. Behind the world champion, Petrucci led proceedings ahead of Rossi and Jack Miller, with Dani Pedrosa another second down the road. Alex Rins climbed into ninth after the start but was already three seconds down on the top eight by lap four.
On lap five, Dovizioso overtook his teammate for the lead but the joy was short lived as the Italian unexpectedly went down in turn six and littered the gravel trap with Ducati bodywork. Lorenzo found himself back in the lead, ahead of Zarco and Marquez, with Petrucci dragging Rossi towards the podium battle. Miller was another second down the road and being hunted down by Pedrosa.
Zarco and Marquez traded blows on the next few laps but the battle ended with Zarco also joining the gravel trap on lap eight as he lost the front in turn four and broke tens of thousandths of hearts around the track. With the world champion seeing his title rivals drop like flies ahead of him, he bided his time behind Lorenzo, Petrucci the only one able to keep up the pace of the leaders. Rossi was one second behind and being reeled in by Miller and Pedrosa. Eight seconds down the road, Aleix Espargaro was edging ahead of Rins, Franco Morbidelli and Maverick Viñales, who was having a pretty mediocre race but was kept busy having to fend off Pol Espargaro and Cal Crutchlow.
Marquez made the decisive move on lap ten after Lorenzo ran wide and the Repsol man snuggly cuddled against the side of the Ducati. Petrucci could not allow himself to lose touch with Marquez and swiftly made if past Lorenzo as well. The factory Ducati man was going backwards and falling into the clutches of his former teammate, Rossi getting past the Spaniard on lap 13 and making the final podium place battle a four-way affair. Lorenzo was easy pray for Miller only a few minutes later.
Back at the front, Marquez and Petrucci were holding station one second ahead of the battle for third although Rossi was pilling on personal bests and fastest laps. The Yamaha’s progress was also aided by Marquez digging his elbows in the tarmac in usual fashion as his Honda had different ideas in terms of trajectory.
With ten laps to go, the gap to Petrucci finally went over the one second mark although the top five men were still posting red sectors. Rossi was still one second back, with Miller still within touch of a podium seven tenths behind the Italian. Lorenzo had dropped another two seconds back and although Pedrosa seemed to have better pace, the Honda man struggled to find a way past his compatriot. A whooping 12 seconds behind that battle, the elder Espargaro was holding off Rins and Viñales for seventh position.
The entertainment for the next few laps was provided by fights away from the limelight, in particular Viñales vs Rins and Morbidelli vs Syahrin. Pedrosa also made it past Lorenzo with seven laps to go but the Repsol rider had dropped nearly three seconds to Miller by that time. The Australian himself was losing ground on Rossi in the battle for third.
The temperature was getting to dangerously slippery levels and became the riders’ main rival as Marquez was managing his one second gap on Petrucci, who was rather miraculously still reeling in mid 1:32s on his fairly used softs. They finally had enough in the final three laps and it allowed Marquez to stretch the gap to two seconds, Rossi safe in third, three seconds back on his compatriot.
The last lap saw Marquez finish off another masterclass ahead of Petrucci and Rossi, with Miller completing a great race for the Pramac team in fourth. Pedrosa’s race was slightly affected by the time he needed to get past Lorenzo and could only climb into fifth, making up for a fourth row start with podium pace, while Lorenzo himself will have been disappointed by sixth after leading the race early on.
Viñales crossed the line 13 seconds down on Lorenzo and two seconds behind a heroic Crutchlow, who despite still suffering from the consequences of his heavy qualifying crash, got the better of Aleix Espargaro in the end. Rins completed the top ten for Suzuki – not quite the result they were hoping for with the big boss watching trackside.
With his biggest title challengers making uncharacteristic mistakes, Marquez extended his lead to 36 points ahead of, surprisingly, Viñales. Zarco drops one position to third, only one point behind the factory Yamaha, with Rossi fourth, 39 points down on his archenemy. The first Ducati in the hierarchy became Petrucci in fifth, as Dovizioso dropped to ninth, with a challenge of 49 points to overcome.
|45||Scott REDDING||Aprilia||17 Laps|
|53||Tito RABAT||Ducati||17 Laps|
|5||Johann ZARCO||Yamaha||19 Laps|
|4||Andrea DOVIZIOSO||Ducati||23 Laps|
|19||Alvaro BAUTISTA||Ducati||26 Laps|
|Not Finished 1st Lap|
|29||Andrea IANNONE||Suzuki||0 Lap|