After leaving the spotlight to on-track battles for the two opening races, the weather wanted some attention back ahead of the premier class race. Although sun was still reflecting on shiny fairings, the thermometer was not feeling too generous and the radar promised rainfall at some point over the 27 laps. Once rain tyres were scrubbed in, last minute tyre gambles made and lights went off, what unfolded was a show of Moto3 proportions. Some rain did eventually come, with a few drops literally raining on Marc Marquez’s parade as he celebrated yet another thrilling last lap victory to become the most successful Honda rider in history. Yamaha came into the race as the dominating force but left only with heartbreak, handing Honda another trophy with Cal Crutchlow making a comeback to the podium in second place. The shoey also made an unexpected comeback on home soil, Jack Miller getting a surprise podium in his lucky special leathers.
It was an interesting start to say the least, poleman Maverick Viñales and Marquez making a meal of it off the line and allowing Valentino Rossi to sweep past the lot of them into Doohan Corner. Front row starter Fabio Quartararo was still finding his feet after he gambled on the hard rear tyre and was struck, quite literally, by bad luck when Danilo Petrucci catapulted himself into the Frenchman, who was already running wide at turn two. Once the waters settled up front, Rossi gifted himself the lead of the race for his 400th – not birthday but grand prix start – and was showing the way to the unlikely duo of Crutchlow and Andrea Iannone. Marquez was just on the back of them with Viñales clawing his way back from sixth and trying to find a way past Aleix Espargaro by the end of lap one.
On lap three, Marquez and Iannone gave us the first flashbacks to 2015, the two swapping paint like the good old days. Meanwhile, Crutchlow grabbed the lead from Rossi into turn one and an opportunistic Iannone took advantage, the Aprilia finding itself in the lead by the end of lap four, through a familiar move in turn 10 – although the drag to the line was fatal to the Aprilia and the Honda resumed control. Rossi did not even get time to be surprised by his compatriot’s achievement as he was getting attacked by Marquez, in another nod to 2015 and Viñales was soon demoting his teammate for fourth place. Yamaha’s veteran got another Aprilia-shaped surprise when Aleix Espargaro pulled off an overtake on lap five and Rossi continued to go backwards, falling victim to Alex Rins soon after. Andrea Dovizioso was not making much noise early on but was hunting down Rossi for seventh place by lap seven.
Crutchlow was still in control of proceedings but had Marquez on his tail and an equally eager Iannone still hanging on and giving the world champion timely reminders of that. Viñales took a good few laps to find a way around the Aprilia at turn four, to be finally reunited with his fellow front row starter in provisional podium positions. Iannone and teammate Espargaro kept close, with Rins, Rossi, Dovizioso and Miller still in the lead group.
On lap nine, Viñales and his famously low heart rate arrived at Lukey Heights ahead of Marquez and the Yamaha rider was reeling in Crutchlow by Honda Corner, finding himself back in the lead for the first time since the lights went off on the grid. Marquez wasted no time in very closely brushing his fellow Honda rider’s side through turn 6 in an attempt to keep up with Viñales’s ominous pace. By lap 12, the top three of Viñales, Marquez and Crutchlow were setting a hot pace that shook off Iannone by one second but it was Rins taking over the pursuit soon after. The chasing pack also included Rossi, Dovizioso, Aleix Espargaro and Miller but the two Aprilias’ 15 minutes of glory seemed to have worn off.
The next few laps leading to the halfway mark of the race seemed like the calm before the storm, with the leaders keeping quiet as ever darker clouds were gathering. Slowly but steady, Viñales and Marquez were stretching away from Crutchlow, two seconds ahead with 12 laps left and the British rider four seconds ahead of Rossi in turn. The Italian was leading the pursuit but that group kept growing, with Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir mixing it up with the big boys. Bagnaia even got the honour of picking up his boss at turn four with nine laps to go, as the Ducatis were finding late pace to lead the chase. Dovizioso and Miller were the next victims of Bagnaia’s speed, the rookie fourth just one lap later, while Rossi kept yoyo-ing up and down that sizeable group.
Back at the front, Viñales and Marquez were still going strong on the soft rear tyre with six laps left, five seconds ahead of Crutchlow on the hard rear. The soft seemed like a much riskier choice for Marquez than for Viñales, who had killer pace on that combination in practice, but the Honda man did have the slight advantage of the hard front in the closing stages of the race. The world champion seemed to be sitting up on the straights and biding his time for a typical late attack. It wasn’t just Marquez waiting to pounce but also the rain, a threatening sight greeting the grid with every passing lap. Some way down the road, Dovizioso had reclaimed the advantage in the battle for fourth but Miller was not making it easy for him, just ahead of the rookie battle royale between Bagnaia and Mir.
Marquez eventually made his one and only well practiced attack into turn one at the start of the final lap and ran a tight defensive line everywhere that it mattered. Disaster struck when Viñales dramatically lost the rear out of Lukey Heights while lining up a move and flew into the gravel trap at MG corner. Marquez was lucky not to be collected by gravity as it was claiming the Yamaha machine and crossed the finish line with an 11 seconds advantage that did little to reflect the entertainment level of the race. Crutchlow inherited second but perhaps even happier than the victor was Miller, who unexpectedly claimed the final podium spot on home soil. The rookie tussle ended with Bagnaia in fourth but Mir was hardly a loser in fifth, ahead of a fantastic Iannone in sixth. Dovizioso was the first real disappointment, the Italian only seventh, ahead of a fading Rossi. Rins and Aleix Espargaro completed the top ten, with a notable mention to Johann Zarco in a dignified 13th place on his first outing for Honda.
Marquez’s brilliant run of victories brings the Spaniard only one point behind Ducati in the teams’ title, while Dovizioso wrapped up second place in the riders’ championship. Then it is either Rins or Viñales who are more likely to iron their dress pants for the gala, the two separated by 7 points, but with Petrucci and Quartararo not too far behind either.
|12||Maverick VIÑALES||Yamaha||1 Lap|
|82||Mika KALLIO||KTM||3 Laps|
|53||Tito RABAT||Ducati||24 Laps|
|Not Finished 1st Lap|
|20||Fabio QUARTARARO||Yamaha||0 Lap|
|9||Danilo PETRUCCI||Ducati||0 Lap|