The 26th running of the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix on the newly refurbished Sepang International Circuit went especially well for several combatants, and not so well for a few others. For factory Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, his skills, his bike, the track and the weather came together in the best possible way, allowing him the relief of a second premier class win, his first since 2009’s British Grand Prix. Contenders Cal Crutchlow, Marc Marquez and Andrea Iannone all crashed within a minute of one another mid-race, to the delight of those following them. The denouement of the 2016 season concludes in two weeks at the finale in Valencia.
Practice and Qualifying (written on Saturday)
Here are what appear to be several strings of initials and numbers to summarize the four practice and two qualifying sessions. A healthy number of you will get this right away. For those of you to whom this is gibberish, it’s actually code.
FP2 – wet – JM!
FP3 – dry – MV, MM, JL, VR, HB. CC13, JM17
FP4 – wet – MM, CC, MV, JL, AD, JM VR8, AI12
Q1 – damp – CC, Baz→ A bunch of good riders didn’t. Sepang is like that.
Q2 – damp – AD, VR, JL, MM, CC, AI. AE7, MV8, AB9
Practice sessions split their time between wet and dry conditions. FP2 was cancelled with Jack Miller leading and fist-pumping. Marquez, Maverick Vinales and The Bruise Brothers of Yamaha, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo were all hanging around the top of the timesheets, with Lorenzo looking, well, abnormal, fast in the rain, almost relaxed. But this is practice.
Both qualifying sessions were run on a surface I would describe as “moist.” The best ride on Saturday belonged to my boy Crutchlow who, with maybe two minutes left in Q2, lost the front and slid into the gravel from 12th position. He somehow got the bike back up and running, twisted his levers back into position, and re-entered the fray, started his only flying lap as the checkered flag fell behind him, and put down a great time that lifted him from 12th on the grid to the middle of the second row. Dude has some onions.
Meanwhile, Andrea Dovizioso puts his factory Ducati on the pole at a track that should suit him with weather conditions looking favorable for the “Dovisedici.” Could we possibly have our ninth different winner this season? Moreover, would the Yamaha string of non-wins hit 10 races, a virtual disaster for the factory team and those who support it in Japan.
The hardest part of this, for me, is watching Marquez running what amount to a “recreational” sets of practice and qualifying sessions. I keep forgetting that it doesn’t really matter for him, though the outcome Sunday and at Valencia will matter a great deal to most of the other riders. Brad Binder keeps winning over at Moto3 after having lapped the field, championship-wise. As we saw last week, Marquez is in full “win or bin” mode, too, although the rain raises the risks and he has bad memories of this place. Might not be a bad idea for the world champion to lay low tomorrow, hope for good weather in Valencia, and pound his opponents to smithereens on Spanish soil in November.
In its capricious Malaysian fashion, Sepang gave the riders a dry track for the morning warmup and a deluge for the race. As the start approached, the rain was truly Forrest Gumpian, and Race Direction delayed things for 15 minutes while shortening the race from 20 laps to 19. It was unanimous among the brolly girls that the appearance of their hair was not their fault, and we noticed that Pol Espargaro received a major upgrade at that position, one so critical for the teams and riders in all weather conditions.
After the initial sighting lap, Jorge “El Gato” Lorenzo began blistering anyone who would listen, claiming the track had standing water and wasn’t safe. He apparently convinced Safety Director Loris Capirossi to wait an additional five minutes to allow the puddles to dissipate. It turned out to be a good decision, as none of the crashers looked likely to blame standing water for their problems. The conditions did produce a wide selection of tire and brake disc choices, the “lottery” dreaded by riders lacking the proper data.
The lead group formed on Lorenzo, who took the holeshot followed by Marquez, Dovizioso and Rossi early. By the end of the first lap, it was Rossi leading the factory Ducatis, with Marquez, Aleix Espargaro, Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Vinales chasing. By the end of the eighth lap, after some jousting between Iannone and Rossi, it was Iannone leading Rossi, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Marquez and Lorenzo, who was fading. Crutchlow was on the fly, Marquez was relaxed and Iannone was showing no signs of the back injury that had caused him to miss a couple rounds
Laps 12 and 13 proved decisive. One by one, top five riders, with conditions appearing to be improving, began crashing out for no good reason. First it was your boy Cal Crutchlow crashing out of fourth place in Turn 2 on Lap 12. Moments later Marquez binned it, losing the front, but getting back on, re-starting his bike, and ultimately finishing 11th for five pride points. On Lap 13, Iannone, who had slipped to third probably in some pain, slipped out of the race entirely, his torturous 2016 season continuing apace.
And then there were two, Rossi and Dovi – friends, Romans, and countrymen – left to duke it out on the Sepang tarmac. Rossi, leading, appeared to run wide on Lap 15, allowing Dovizioso through, and that was that. Rossi battled a failing front tire for the rest of the day, while Dovizioso cruised to the win, the second of his career since his Repsol Honda days in 2009 at Donington Park.
The promotions received by the trailing riders caused some curious results. Lorenzo, never a factor all day, podiumed in third place. The Avintia Ducati team, showing what the GP14.2 can do in the rain, took fourth and fifth, with Hector Barbera and Loris Baz both recording memorable results. Vinales, who looked to be suffering all day in the rain, finally got it together enough for a sixth-place finish. The rest of the top ten was comprised of an improving Alvaro Bautista, an over-rated Jack Miller, Pol Espargaro and Danilo Petrucci, who padded his lead over teammate Scott Redding by five points in their side bet for a factory bike next season.
Pity the Fool
The drumbeat continues at Movistar Yamaha. Eight races winless at Motegi. Nine at Phillip Island. Now ten at Sepang. The flyaway rounds – Rossi with his jet lag, Lorenzo with his wet nightmares – have been a disappointment. The kind of “disappointment” to which the suits in Hamamatsu are unaccustomed. The kind of “disappointment” that causes the corporate rivals of folks like Lin Jarvis and his cabal to begin sharpening their knives. You and I think about this stuff for a while and move on. Somewhere in Japan, a Yamaha executive sits in disgrace, a stain on his reputation and career.
It’s a tough league.
|2016 MotoGP Sepang Results|
|1||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||–|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+3.115|
|3||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+11.924|
|4||Hector Barbera||Avintia Racing||+19.916|
|5||Loris Baz||Avintia Ducati||+21.353|
|6||Maverick Vinales||Suzuki Ecstar||+22.932|
|7||Alvaro Bautista||Aprilia Gresini||+25.829|
|8||Jack Miller||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+32.746|
|9||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+33.704|
|10||Danilo Petrucci||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||+34.280|
|11||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||+36.480|
|12||Eugene Laverty||Aspar Ducati||+36.638|
|13||Aleix Espargaro||Suzuki Ecstar||+36.897|
|14||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+45.609|
|15||Scott Redding||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||+49.779|
|16||Hiroshi Aoyama||Repsol Honda||+52.665|
|17||Stefan Bradl||Aprilia Gresini||+52.784|
|18||Tito Rabat||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+54.891|
|DNF||Andrea Iannone||Ducati Corse||7 Laps|
|DNF||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda||8 Laps|
|DNF||Yonny Hernandez||Aspar Ducati||8 Laps|
|2016 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 17 Rounds|