The 2017 Czech Motorcycle Grand Prix, after much pre-race sturm und drang, turned out to be a fascinating six-lap race with a 16-lap warm down. Series leader Marc Marquez, with the best meteorologists of any crew, pitted at the end of Lap 2 and changed from soft rain tires to slicks before the thought occurred to many of his competitors. He summarily seized the lead on Lap 6 and never looked back.

As Sunday afternoon approached, the crews were in a collective lather trying to figure out the weather and pursuant tire combinations. Marquez changed from a hard rear rain tire to the soft while on the track, a minute before the sighting lap. Confusion reigned, the sky an off-putting combination of clear blue sunshine and heavy gray clouds. It was declared a Wet Race.

We have seen this before from the Repsol Honda crew. They out-thunk and out-worked the factory Ducati and Yamaha teams today, who had their #2 bikes set up for rain, while the Repsol team had both #2 bikes, #93 and #26, set up for the dry. Marquez, who has learned the hard way the benefits of pitting punctually on a drying track (see Phillip Island 2013, etc.), was the first to do so, Dani Pedrosa the second, and rookie Johann Zarco the last of the frontrunners to come in.

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Jorge Lorenzo and Ducati’s new fairing were the talk of the paddock this weekend. Lorenzo led the first three laps but dropped all the way down to 19th after swapping bikes.

A number of riders, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi among them, were forced to stay out longer than they wanted because their bikes weren’t ready. Lorenzo, especially, was hindered by his own team today. This must be unusually painful in that he had led the race from jump street for three laps, then was 19th for awhile before ultimately finishing another dismal 15th.

One of the best things about this sport is that the rider makes the decision when to come in for the change, despite the new messages flashing on his screen. Marquez seems to have an extra muscle that allows him to hit the apex, as it were, when it comes to these flag-to-flag events. And a crew that can roll with him.

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An all-Spanish podium of Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Maverick Viñales paid tribute to the late Ángel Nieto.

Qualifying

Q2 was more or less predictable, given the heat. The battle for pole became one of circuit (Yamaha- and Ducati-friendly) vs. conditions (Honda heat), and conditions won out. Marquez unloaded his second consecutive pole lap with about a minute left, and nobody mounted a serious challenge after that. Rossi and Pedrosa had already completed the front row, while Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati, LCR’s Cal Crutchlow, nursing a damaged vertebra and Lonesome Jorge Lorenzo made up row two.

The Anointed Maverick Viñales, who had struggled all weekend, managed only the top of row three, along with Danilo Petrucci and Alvaro Bautista, both of whom had passed through Q1 to get that far. Zarco (Tech 3 Yamaha), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) and Loris Baz (Avintia Ducati) completed the top 12.

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Maverick Viñales qualified seventh but fought his way onto the podium.

Alex Rins (Suzuki) qualified in front of 10 other guys, since most of his fractures have now healed. Just sayin’. Brands that failed to make the grade yesterday included Jonas Folger (Tech 3), the indifferent Andrea Iannone (Suzuki) and Jack Miller (Honda), cooling his heels, anticipating climbing aboard a Ducati GP17 in November.

Down the line in Moto2, veteran Mattia Passini took pole for Kalex, trailed in short order by Miguel Oliveira (KTM) and Franco Morbidelli (Kalex). Oliveira has ridden the KTM factory MotoGP bike and claims to love it, as all good Moto2 riders should. He will find his way to MotoGP in short order. Morbidelli is already going; Passini has been there, done that, got the T-shirt and got out of town.

Gabriel Rodrigo secured pole in Moto3, ahead of rising stars with names like Romano Fenati (2nd), Joan Mir (4th), Nicolo Bulega, Bo Bendsneyder and Fabio Di Giannantonio. In their customary frantic fashion, 23 riders qualified under 2:10, with six of those under 2:09. Closer than a rush-hour bus in August.

With Sunday barreling down on them, the MotoGP riders went to bed Saturday night not knowing what to expect in the way of weather when they woke up on Sunday. Or tire choices. Or race strategy. Or anything much beyond the fact that Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi had qualified one-two and were sharpening their blades, smiles in place, for Sunday’s soiree.

Aliens Flirt with Disaster

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There was no stopping Marc Marquez after he swapped machines on the second lap.

With Marquez disappearing from sight and the 2017 title up for grabs, the other contenders spent an alarming amount of time not contending today before making impressive saves. Dani Pedrosa sat in 8th place for a couple of early laps. Viñales was loitering as low as 13th on Lap 5. Rossi, who led briefly early, returned from his pit in 14th place, 28 seconds behind Marquez. That he made it back to 4th place at the flag is testament to his continued excellence at making lemonade out of lemons. Andrea Dovizioso, who I had expected to fight for the win today, finished Lap 6 in 15th place before rallying to 6th. All had the pace. None had the crew or, for that matter, the rider.

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Cal Crutchlow ignored medical advice to sit out of qualifying after injuring his back in a crash during practice. LCR says Crutchlow was checked after qualifying and tests showed no signs of serious injury.

Both Pedrosa and Marquez gained ground on the Aliens today. Crutchlow’s gritty performance, nursing a very sore back and taking 5th place, gave Honda three of the top five finishers at a track not particularly well-suited to the bike’s strengths, which are few. The Tech 3 Yamaha rookies Zarco and Folger, either of which I had predicted could win today’s race, made a hash of things, with Folger crossing the line in 10th and Zarco limping home 12th. Zarco spent a few early laps in podiumland and too many laps before pitting. If you look up the noun “rookie mistake” in the dictionary, you’ll see his devilishly handsome face with his name in parentheses below it.

Elsewhere on the Grid

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Alex Rins showed signs of improvement as his injuries finally seemed to be healing.

My boy Alex Rins finished in the points in 11th place. Depending on how the season ends, it is not out of the question that he could challenge Zarco and Folger for ROY consideration. Petrucci, running as high as 3rd in the early going, got passed by five riders, easy as you please, on his way to 7th place. Aleix Espargaro, who had been very high on the leader board early, got tangled up with Iannone in pit lane, was penalized three positions (for an error by his crew, releasing him at the wrong time) and still managed 8th place, miles ahead of teammate Sam Lowes and, more importantly, directly in front of little brother Pol on the KTM, who had to be happy for a top ten finish regardless.

The Big Picture

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Andrea Dovizioso did not try the new fairing Jorge Lorenzo used this weekend. In the midst of a title chase, Dovizioso may not want to change anything yet until the aerodynamics develop further.

Yesterday, Marc Marquez had three Aliens sitting within 10 points of him, all slavering away at the idea of unseating him today at Brno. And while Pedrosa lost ground to him (-26 to -31), the Repsol Honda duo gained ground on everyone else, including Dovizioso and the Yamahas. The order of the top five riders hasn’t changed, but Marquez now leads Viñales by 14, Dovizioso and Rossi by 20-something, and Pedrosa by over 30. For the triple world champion, who trailed Viñales by 37 points after Round 2, it’s getting easier to breathe. He looks and sounds like 2015 was a fluke and that he is, in fact, King of the Universe. Maverick Viñales may have to wait his turn.

Moto2 and Moto3 Results

The Moto3 championship became a, ahem, Mir formality as the brilliant young Spanish series leader held off hotheaded Italian Romano Fenati in a bit of a damp clinic on how to punk your rival. Fenati is officially the second-best rider in Moto3, as he has now finished second in four races in a row and five for the year. Oh, and Bulega plays up his resemblance to Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and has the best hair in Moto3. That’s it.

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Thomas Luthi benefited form the restarted Moto2 race, winning a six-lap sprint.

Today’s Moto2 race was red-flagged due to rain and re-started as a six-lap sprint. Mattia Pasini and Franco Morbidelli had the first race by the throat, but both got splattered in the sprint, Pasini crashing out and Morbidelli getting swamped all the way down to eighth. Veteran Thomas Luthi took advantage of series leader Morbidelli’s travails, winning easily and cutting his deficit to the Italian in half.

On to Austria

Testing at Brno tomorrow for some of the teams, then back at it again on Friday at The Red Bull Ring, the Bonneville Salt Flats of MotoGP, in scenic Spielberg, Austria. Last year Iannone and Dovizioso made it a Dueling Andreas sweep for Ducati. With Iannone busy working himself out of a job at Suzuki, and Jorge Lorenzo stumbling around the Ducati garage with his fly down, it appears to be up to Dovizioso and Petrucci to carry the flag next week. The factory Yamahas of Viñales and Rossi will be feeling the pressure of dealing with Marquez who, at this point, should mainly be interested in trying to beat Viñales every time out.

Marquez, on the other hand, will be feeling little pressure heading to Schnitzeland. A podium there would be nice but not necessary. Keeping the shiny side up and finishing the race are important, while keeping a close eye on Viñales is just good business.

We will have a fresh new set of tranches ready for you by mid-week as we gear up for Round 11 in Austria.

Let Valencia Decide.

The MotoGP community honored the late Angel Nieto who passed away last week.

The MotoGP community honored the late Angel Nieto who passed away last week.