On a race day at Catalunya where all and sundry paid tribute to fallen Moto2 rider Luis Salom, who passed away after a crash on Friday, Valentino Rossi came up trumps in a MotoGP thriller ahead of Repsol Honda pair Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.
In what the Italian superstar described as a "perfect Sunday", Rossi was fastest in morning warm-up before getting the job done in the 25-lap race from the second row of the grid. It was the perfect riposte for Rossi after an engine problem took him out of the last round at Mugello.
Meanwhile, it was a disaster for Rossi's teammate and world champion Jorge Lorenzo, who led early before he began to fade with front grip issues. However, his attempt at damage limitation was scuppered by Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) who cannoned into him under brakes, taking out both riders as they battled for fifth position.
Iannone's prior 'form' in that area (he took out teammate Andrea Dovizioso earlier in the season) means that he will start from the back row of the grid in the next round at Assen, as well as the addition of two penalty points to his record.
Still, Lorenzo wasn't happy, saying that "these kinds of riders don't understand that they have to change their mentality". Just as well Iannone won't be at Ducati next year…
Lorenzo's DNF leaves him on 115pts, with Marquez (125) reclaiming the championship lead, while Rossi (103) closes back in after his second win of the season.
By the time that Iannone took out Lorenzo, the race pattern had been set with Rossi and Marquez in tight formation at the front, followed by Pedrosa and Maverick Vinales (Ecstar Suzuki).
Marquez had a few moments while he kept Rossi in his sights, and with two laps to go he tried to make his move. However, it didn't stick and when he ran wide later that same lap he decided that caution was the better part of valour — he had already worked out he'd be back in the championship lead — and eased off, allowing Rossi to take a resounding victory.
"The race was great! Though the start was not fantastic, I was strong enough to come back, do some good overtaking and arrive in front", said Rossi. "From that moment I tried to push at 100 percent to go away alone, but unfortunately I wasn't fast enough to pull away from Marquez.
"At the end I was ready for the battle, which was a good one, with a lot of overtaking and I was ready to give it a try. You can't wish for a better race, I think. This is one of my favourite tracks and I hadn't won here since 2009.
"Together with my team we did a great job and I think this is the best way to forget about the zero points in Mugello."
Bitter rivals Marquez and Rossi also shook hands at the end of the race — a mild case of détente after a bitter falling out between the pair in 2015.
Pedrosa finished six seconds behind Rossi from his front row starting position, while Vinales was erratic in the early stages before settling and completing a solid fourth from Pol Espargaro (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Dovizioso, Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia Racing Tea Gresini), Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati) and Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) — the Aussie's best MotoGP result.
“I’m really happy to be back in the points and I had a big fight throughout the race and really enjoyed it," said Miller. "I tried to conserve my tyres because I knew we would lose some grip in the hot conditions and it was a strategy that paid off.
"I definitely feel like I got the most potential out of the bike today. I tried to save the tyres in Jerez and I probably conserved them too much and felt I could have pushed more. But today I gave it my all and I used the whole performance potential of the rear tyre. To finish in the top 10 for the first time in my MotoGP career is a really big boost for me.
"My guys have stuck with me all through a difficult first part of the season and I’m happy for the team. And I dedicate my first top 10 in MotoGP to my friend Luis Salom, who I will miss greatly."
As well as Lorenzo and Iannone, Bradley Smith (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) and Aleix Espargaro (Ecstar Suzuki) also failed to finish, both will bike problems.
1. Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha, 44m37.589s
2. Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda +2.652s
3. Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda, +6.313s
10, Jack Miller, EG 0,0 Marc VDS, +49.514s
Pole position: Marquez, 1m43.589s = 161.7km/h
Fastest lap: Maverick Vinales, Ecstar Suzuki, 1m45.971s = 158.1km/h
Championship top 3
Marquez 125 • Lorenzo 115 • Rossi 103
When Frenchman Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) gets his eye in it’s just about a case of put down your glasses. That was the case at Catalunya after he passed long-time leader Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) with six laps to go and then charged off to take a commanding victory.
Zarco said: “It has been a very hard weekend emotionally because of the loss of Luis. The pole position yesterday was important and I wanted to dedicate that to him, and this win is very nice because all the Moto2 riders were able to pay tribute to him on the podium
"We all knew that this race was for Luis, to honour him. It was the best way to end the weekend.”
Rins held onto second, and moved back into the championship leader after Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) finished well back in sixth.
Japan's Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) returned to the podium for the first time since Misano in 2015, ahead of Malaysia's Hafizh Syahrin (Petronas Raceline Malaysia) and early leader Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten).
Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) crashed while pushing for a podium finish, while Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) and Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Team) came together at turn 15 on lap three. The incident was looked at by Race Direction, but ruled a racing incident.
Meanwhile, Australia's Remy Gardner returned to the GP ranks as a substitute rider in the Tasca Racing Scuderia squad and finished an excellent 15th.
"It was hard in practice as the bike was set up for someone else and we needed to change many things but the team listened and step by step we could improve," said Gardner. "The race was long; much longer than the CEV races but I am so happy with the result."
Rins is now on 116pts from Lowes (108) and Zarco closing on 106.
1. Johann Zarco, Ajo Motorsport, 42m31.547s
2. Alex Rins, Paginas Amarillas HP 40, +4.180s
3. Sam Lowes, Federal Oil Gresini, +9.313s
Pole position: Zarco, 1m49.179s = 153.4km/h
Fastest lap: Zarco, 1m49.968s = 167.5km/h
Championship top 3
Rins 116 • Sam Lowes 108 • Zarco 106
Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda) waltzed to his first win in the light-weight ranks, his last two laps sensational. In the process, the Spaniard also snapped Brad Binder's three-race winning streak on the Red Bull KTM Ajo machine.
“This win feels glorious — and even more so with the way we earned it," said Navarro. In sporting terms it has been a very good weekend for us, because I had a race like this in mind since Friday, with the idea being to start well and push hard.
"The improvements brought here by Honda have helped me a lot too. Today I started the race thinking only that I had to win, that today was the day; I wanted the win for me, for my team and to dedicate the victory to Luis Salom.”
Binder's last lap was a blinder, especially his brilliant overtaking antics at turn four, but the South African just couldn't catch Navarro as he finished half-a-second behind, with Italian Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Honda) third in an emphatic return to form.
Sky Racing Team VR46 teammates Romano Fenati and rookie Nicolo Bulega were fourth and fifth, both less than a second behind Navarro.
A few other riders were also fighting at the front but crashed, including Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA Racing Team KTM) and Khairul Idham Pawi (Honda Team Asia).
Binder's lead over Navarro has now been trimmed to 44pts (147 to 103).
1. Jorge Navarro, Estrella Galicia 0,0, 42m18.228s
2. Brad Binder, Red Bull KTM Ajo, +0.564s
3. Enea Bastianini, Gresini Racing +0.817s
Pole position: Binder, 1m54.024s = 146.9km/h
Fastest lap: Romano Fenati, Sky Rcaing Tam VR46, 1m54.145s = 146.8km/h
Championship top 3
Binder 147 • Navarro 103 • Fenati 80
Next round: Assen, Netherlands, June 24-26