MotoGP strangeness in Spain – With Boris Mihailovic
Images by Andrew Northcott
The Catalunya round was a strange race. Even Dovizioso felt it. “It was a strange race,” he said in his post-race interview, still rather overwhelmed by his stunning back-to-back victory.
In the space of two weeks, Andrea Dovizioso has gone from being Jorge Lorenzo’s sad-eyed team-mate at Ducati Corse, to a bona fide title contender. So, yeah. Things are strange indeed.
The track itself came under criticism from the opening practice laps. Firstly, the riders did not like the ageing surface and said this will be the last time they race there unless it’s resurfaced. And secondly, no-one liked where the new chicane was placed.
Jack Miller actually ignored it, and rode last year’s track layout for a few laps during practice. And following two low-speed get-offs which left bikes in the middle of the track, a Friday arvo rider’s meeting saw a phalanx of bulldozers restore the track to its 2016 configuration overnight.
But it didn’t much matter for the factory Yamahas. Yamaha had chosen not to test at Catalunya earlier in the season, probably reasoning that Rossi knew the track backward, and Vinales, who also knew the track, would be quick even if they blindfolded him.
Bad call, as it turned out – with Rossi qualifying in 13th and Vinales in ninth. The factory Yamahas struggled all weekend with grip, and once again, tyre choice was a crucial factor for all the teams.
Things were altogether different at Honda. Marquez, who crashed four times during practice (five if you count his face-plant outside his pit garage) was quick, as was Pedrosa, who qualified on pole. It seemed the Hondas respond better than the Yamahas to slippery tracks.
Team Ducati was also enjoying itself. Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Petrucci were showing strongly in practice and qualifying, with Lorenzo securing second place on the grid just in front of Petrucci’s hulking form.
But no-one appeared to be enjoying himself as much as Zarco. He spent some quality time back-flipping like a French sexist into a pool full of bikini-clad Monster promo girls – an attraction sadly lacking at the Phillip Island round of the MotoGP because we, like Albania and Kazakhstan, are not a country where objectifying wet girls like that is acceptable. Or maybe it’s just too cold.
The race start proved to be almost as unacceptable, with Petrucci horrifying Lorenzo and almost taking out Marquez in his dash for Turn One. Vinales also found himself charging into the run-off area, before recovering and choosing to ride somewhere near the back of the field. Rossi was also unable to improve from 13th in the opening laps.
Clearly, all of Yamaha’s hopes lay with Jonas Folger, who found himself in fifth, chasing a blisteringly quick Lorenzo, Marquez, Pedrosa and Dovizioso out of the blocks.
But the lead was not Lorenzo’s for very long. Clearly unprepared psychologically for being in first place again, Lorenzo faded rapidly backwards, as Marquez and Pedrosa flew past him, followed by his team-mate, Dovizioso, then Folger and Petrucci.
Petrucci was coming on hard mid-race as Race Direction considered what penalty, if any, was to be imposed on him for careening into Marquez at the start. Karma took over from Race Direction and Petrucci found himself kicking gravel. Jack Miller and Asparagus A were also non-finishers.
Up the front, Pedrosa pounded into the lead and found himself trying to keep Dovizioso and Marquez at bay.
Dovi eventually rounded Dani up, as did Marquez, while Folger gave way to Petrucci, and ultimately to Lorenzo and Zarco. Lorenzo had actually recovered from riding backwards and was staging a pit-fight with Bautista and the sexist Zarco for sixth place. He came out on top and eventually sailed into a well-deserved fourth place.
Rossi finished in eighth after threatening all kinds of speed mid-race, but the grip just wasn’t there for the Doctor. His team-mate, Vinales, finished in a state of utter confusion in tenth. He still leads the championship, but Dovizioso is a mere seven points away.
In fact, the championship is wide open. Only 36 points separate Zarco in sixth place from Vinales in first. Rossi is 28 points shy of the lead he had at the start of the season, Dani is 27 off the top, and Marquez 23.
We now have a weekend to recover before charging into the back-to-back bashfest of Assen and Sachsenring.
And as we all know, weird stuff always happens at the Assen Cathedral, and it has nothing to do with priests.