It wasn't the ideal result for the local MotoGP™ diehards: a Spanish 1-2 in round six of the series at Mugello as Jorge Lorenzo swept past Marc Marquez to bring up Yamaha's 100th victory in the modern four-stroke era.
The drag to the finish line concluded 23 brilliant laps around the Tuscan circuit, which had seen world champion Lorenzo lead for all but a few corners of the race: stalked by local hero, teammate and pole sitter Valentino Rossi for the first eight laps before Marquez took over the baton until the end.
A blown engine for Rossi on lap nine was the ultimate circuit-hushing act, but it wasn't all doom and gloom for the spectators with Italian Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) eventually finishing in third position after being as far back as 11th in the early stages.
Iannone finished nearly five seconds behind Lorenzo and Marquez, who went at it hammer and tongs on the final lap. After a few lead changes, Marquez led onto the straight for the last time, but the acceleration advantage of Lorenzo's Movistar Yamaha over Marquez's Repsol Honda was telling as he bested his countryman by 0.019secs.
But that shouldn't underplay another sublime performance from Lorenzo, who was again inch-perfect in not only fending Rossi off, but holding his nerve as Marquez lurked.
"It was an unexpected race, because we thought for example that Iannone and Viñales, who had a very high pace, would be fighting until the end for the victory, but in the end it was Marc," said Lorenzo. "I tried to escape, pushing so much on the changes in direction and I used a lot of energy and I thought I maybe I didn't have enough to fight with Marc for the victory, because with him riding behind me he maybe saved more energy and was more powerful at the end, but my luck was the engine this time.
"When I stayed behind him I thought I was losing the race and tried a bit of a crazy move that I pulled on (Alex) De Angelis in 250cc in the race in 2005. This memory was in my head, so I said to myself 'Why not try the same?' and did it. I passed him but went wide and he overtook me again. In the last corner I tried again under braking, but he closed the door so much that if I had released the brake maybe we could have touched and crashed together, so I decided to stay in second place and make a lot of speed in the last corner and exit with the slipstream and try.
"When I exited the corner I thought I was losing the race, but my bike caught up with him so much, it was a surprising win. In Moto3™ we often see races like this, but in MotoGP™ this kind of finish doesn't happen often. Today, if I had been fighting with Rossi or Iannone, I wouldn't have won, it was a crazy battle."
Marquez was left to rue what might have been: “Today we made a good race… but even with the slipstream I wasn’t able to overtake Jorge. We struggled throughout the weekend with acceleration and top speed. I tried to give my all and I did the best race I could do today, I really tried everything.
"I took several risks in an attempt to win, but on the home straight Jorge slip-streamed me. Now we have to keep working on acceleration because we’re still lacking a little in that regard. Honda is working hard back in Japan, as we do at the tracks and we’ll try to take a step forward ahead of the next race.”
Marquez is now 10pts (115 to 105) behind Lorenzo in the standings, while Rossi (78) is losing touch but holds onto third, ahead of Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda, 66), Maverick Vinales (Ecstar Suzuki, 59) and Aleix Espargaro (Ecstar Suzuki, 49).
Pedrosa was fourth at Mugello from Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Vinales.
After showing great pace in qualifying to start the race from the front row alongside Rossi, Vinales had a problem with his electronics on the run to turn one, which saw him freefall to 11th. The issue fixed itself but the damage was done: another case of what might have been for Vinales, who's heading across to Movistar Yamaha in 2017 to replace Lorenzo.
Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati) were seventh and eighth, while Aussie Jack Miller (EG 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) didn't make it past turn one after being caught up as collateral damage in a crash that also involved Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia Racing Gresini) and Loris Baz (Avintia Racing Ducati).
"My race lasted about 500 metres but you can't control what is out of your hands," said Miller. "We worked hard all weekend to have good set-up for the race so it's really disappointing to be taken out at the first corner.
"It's a shame but the positives are that we improved all weekend, I'm really sorry for the team and the sponsors on a weekend when I felt good about doing a strong race. We need to put this behind us now and look ahead to the next race in Barcelona."
- Jorge Lorenzo Movistar Yamaha, 41m36.535s
- Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda +0.019s
- Andrea Iannone, Ducati Team, +4.742s
DNF, Jack Miller, EG 0,0 Marc VDS, +23 laps
Pole position: Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha, 1m46.504s = 177.2km/h
Fastest lap: Iannone, 1m47.687s = 175.3km/h
Championship top 3
Lorenzo 115 • Marquez 105 • Rossi 78
Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) came home with the spoils in a thrilling 10-lap battle, ahead of Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Team) and Briton Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini).
However, the backdrop to the result was quite complex, with the first attempt at the race red-flagged after Xavier Vierge (Tech 3 Racing) lost the front at turn 13, his bike hitting the air fence which then deflated.
The race was eventually restarted and set at 10 laps, the grid decided based on the position of riders on the third lap. However, Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Julian Simon (QMMF Racing Team), Xavier Simeon (QMMF Racing Team), Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing), Ratthapark Wilairot (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Edgar Pons (Paginas Amarillas HP 40), Federico Fuligni (Team Ciatti) and championship leader Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) were all sent to the back of the grid for delaying the race restart.
The shortened race produced superb action as tyre wear was of no concern. Baldassarri, Zarco and Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) battled freely at the front while Rins made great progress through the field.
On the final lap, Zarco pushed to the limit to win by 0.030secs from Baldassarri, followed by Lowes, Luthi, Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia), Axel Pons (AGR Team) and Rins.
"Despite starting from sixth, the team and I had a good feeling — we were just concerned as everyone in this class is fast," said Zarco. "The fight with Baldassarri was incredible and he rode very well. I was aggressive and I wanted to keep my position on the last corners, because I knew I could win if I got onto the straight first. These 25 points are just what I needed to get back into the fight for the championship."
Lowes (98pts) moves back into the lead from Rins (96), Luthi (82) and Zarco (81).
- Johann Zarco, Ajo Motorsport, 18m59.391s
- Lorenzo Baldassarri, Forward Team, +0.030s
- Sam Lowes, Federal Oil Gresini, +1.096s
Pole position: Lowes, 1m51.965s = 168.6km/h
Fastest lap: Tom Luthi, Garage Plus Interwetten, 1m52.718s = 167.5km/h
Championship top 3
Lowes 98 • Rins 96 • Luthi 82
Incredible underplays the Moto3™ race at Mugello, with the top 21 finishers flashing across the finish line less than five seconds apart.
With positional changes too numerous to check, especially along the 1km-plus main straight, South African Brad Binder (Red Bull KTm Ajo) won his third successive race with a perfect last lap, finishing ahead of rookie teenager Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing Honda) and Francesco Bagnaia (Aspar Mahindra).
“Today’s race was crazy. I was in first, then 10th then eighth. It was so difficult to plan, but I just made sure that in the last lap I was quite far back in the group so I could at least arrive in the top three at the first corner," said Binder. "I am completely stoked. It was so good to get another win, three in a row. Today was a tough race and there was a lot of fighting, and to pull it off was great. I cannot thank my team enough. They gave me the perfect gearbox and my set-up was incredible. I could never have done it without them.”
Try as they might, Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold Honda) and Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing) had to settle for fourth and fifth, while championship contenders Romano Fenati (Sky Racing Team VR46 KTM) and Jorge Navarro (EG 0,0 Honda) failed to finish. Fenati was particularly unlucky after snapping a chain, while Navarro crashed.
Binder is now way out in front on 127pts from Navarro (78) and Fenati (67).
- Brad Binder, Red Bull KTM Ajo, 41m29.882s
- Fabio Gi Giannantonio, Gresini Racing Honda, +0.038s
- Francesco Bagnaia, Aspar Mahindra, +0.069s
Pole position: Romano Fenati, SKY Racing Team VR46 KTM, 1m57.289s = 160km/h
Fastest lap: Juanfran Guevera, RBA Racing Team KTM, 1m58.009s = 160km/h
Championship top 3
Binder 127 • Jorge Navarro 78 • Fenati 67
Next round: Catalunya, Spain, June 3-5
Images courtesy of MotoGP.com