Jorge Lorenzo has begun his MotoGP title defence in glorious fashion with victory in the season-opening race at the Losail circuit in Qatar, with Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez completing the podium.
Lorenzo was all smarts, with the polesitter spending the early part of the race behind Dovizioso and Iannone on the second lightning fast factory Ducati before making his way back into the lead and then onto a well-earned victory — an ominous sign that he's again going to be the class benchmark on his Movistar Yamaha.
"For me, over all laps, this race has been one of the best of my whole career and that was why I was able to win and could make this little difference in the last three laps that gave me the victory," said Lorenzo. "We made the decision to put on the soft rear tyre, because with the hard one we couldn't be so fast.
"The harder compound should become better and better, but I think what happened was the opposite. The softer tyre should get worse and worse, but it was faster and faster so this… was the difference between me and Dovizioso and Marquez.
"I was surprised how fast my pace was towards the end of the race, and I feel very proud of my riding and my race and also the work of the team, because we put together the electronics and the setting of the bike in a very good way."
Australia's Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) finished in 14th position as he completed the full race distance without any problems from the right leg he broke in January.
The 22-lap race began with most of the riders adopting a cautious 'wait and see' mode, but it began to open up on lap six when Iannone crashed out of third place. That left Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Marquez (Repsol Honda) and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) in the leading group, while Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) was drifting back as he held off the attention of Maverick Vinales (Ecstar Suzuki).
With about five laps to go Lorenzo put down the hammer and went onto set a new lap record of 1:54.927 — eclipsing Casey Stoner's long-time mark of 1:55.153 set in 2008.
Marquez knew that Lorenzo was making a runner and passed Dovizioso under brakes. However, he couldn't land a blow on the world champion — and then Dovizioso blasted back past him on the last lap which put the issue beyond doubt.
Lorenzo won by just over two seconds from Dovizioso, who repeated his second place finish from 2015. Rossi was fourth from Pedrosa, Vinales, Monster Yamaha Tech 3 riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing Ducati) and Scott Redding (OCTO Pramac Yakhnich Ducati). In Qatar, Smith was announced as KTM's first signing for its entry into MotoGP next year.
Despite predictions the MotoGP status quo could be upset under the new rules — spec electronics and the same selection of tyres from new supplier Michelin — the first round at Losail proved otherwise as the same superstars of the class again battled it out at the front. Vinales was the man most likely to upset the applecart, but he couldn't capitalise on his front row start and found himself locked in battle with Pedrosa.
Meanwhile, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) was another rider to crash, as did Loris Baz (Avintia Racing Ducati) and Stefan Bradl (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini). Danilo Petrucci (OCTO Pramac Yakhnich Ducati) didn't race after he re-broke his injured hand in practice — without crashing, which indicates just how many forces MotoGP riders are under.
Miller was delighted though to pass a severe examination of his physical condition.
“I finished the race and learnt a lot, so that’s the main positive to take away from tonight,:" said Miller. "It is the first time I’ve done full race distance since my pre-season injury and my leg didn’t cause me any problems and I am really happy with my physical condition.
"I was having a good battle with (Eugene) Laverty and (Alvaro) Bautista but I made a small mistake on the last lap that let them back through, so that was a shame. It was good experience and now we can look forward to Argentina where I had a strong result a year ago."'
Miller's rookie teammate Tito Rabat was the final rider on track in 15th position, with five DNFs.
1. Jorge Lorenzo, Movistar Yamaha, 42m28.452s
2. Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati Team, +2.019s
3. Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda, +2.387s
14. Jack Miller, EG 0,0 Marc VDS, +41.982s
Pole position: Lorenzo, 1:54.543 = 169km/h
Fastest lap and new record: Lorenzo, 1:54.927 = 168.5km/h
Championship top 3
Lorenzo 25 • Dovizioso 20 • Marquez 16
The race was won by Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) from Luis Salom (SAG Team) and Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing), but what happened beforehand was a whirlwind.
There was drama aplenty as polesitter Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP) crashed out of a comfortable lead on lap three, while the likes of world champion Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport), Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), Marcel Schrotter (AGR Team) and Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) were all handed ride-through penalties for jumping the start.
This handed the race lead to Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), the Italian battling with Luthi out at the front. They remained locked in combat, but on lap 14 it was announced that the race starts of Morbidelli and Sandro Cortese (Dynavolt Intact GP), who were at the time in first and fourth, were under investigation by race direction — and they were eventually pinged with 20-second penalties after the race.
Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia) was fourth from Dominique Aegerter (CarXpert Interwetten), while Danny Kent (Leopard Racing) secured sixth in his return to the Moto2 class ahead of Morbidelli.
1 Tom Luthi, Garage Plus Interwetten, 40m14.293
2. Luis Salom, SAG Team, +9.610s
3. Simone Corsi, Speed Up Racing, +9.665s
Pole position: Jonas Folger, Dynavolt Intact GP, 1:59.052 = 162.6km/h
Fastest lap and new record: Sam Lowes, Federal Oil Gresini Moto2, 1:59.421 = 162.1km/h
Championship top 3
Luthi 25 • Salom 20 • Corsi 16
A classically close race saw Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold Honda) emerge victorious from Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Francesco Bagnaia (Aspar Mahindra). It was Antonelli's third Moto3 win.
Typically, it all came down to the last lap, with Binder beginning it in the lead as polesitter Romano Fenati (SKY Racing Team VR46 KTM) ran wide at turn one and dropped to sixth.
Antonelli played the race to perfection, pulling out of Binder’s slipstream to seize the win by an ultra-slender 0.007 seconds. Fenati recovered to finish in fourth from compatriot Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Honda).
1. Niccolo Antonelli, Ongetta-Rivacold Honda, 38m12.161s
2. Brad Binder, Red Bull KTM Ajo +0.007s
3. Francesco Bagnaia, Aspar Mahindra, +0.148s
Pole position: Romano Fenati, SKY Racing Team VR46 KTM, 2:06.131 = 153.5km/h
Fastest lap: Livio Loi, RW Racing GP BV, 2:06.171 = 153.5km/h
Championship top 3
Antonelli 25 • Binder 20 • Bagnaia 16
Next round: Argentina, April 1-3
Images courtesy of MotoGP.com