After recording no wins between Donington Park 2009 and Sepang 2016, Ducati #1 rider Andrea Dovizioso has now taken two wins in eight days, recording superlative rides at both Mugello and now Montmelo. A few days before Mugello he pronounced the GP17 unwinnable in its current configuration. Gratifying to see his analytic skills are no better than mine.

Practice and Qualifying

Q1 timesheet looked mostly normal – three Hondas in the top four – until I laughed out loud at the sight of Sam Lowes in seventh, at which point I suspected it was a circus out there. Four riders failed to record a time on a drying track.

Sam Lowes had a strong Free Practice 1 but got progressively worse through the weekend.

FP2 had more anomalies, Jonas Folger sitting third and Tito Rabat sixth among them. Marc Marquez was looking strong on the brakes; Jorge Lorenzo took second. Jorge must be riding counter-intuitively, having stated to the press that riding the bike “normally” does not work for him. At 140 mph and above and in traffic I’m sure his lizard brain reverts, which is why he cannot currently compete effectively.

Race Direction, changing horses in the middle of the stream, announced on Friday night that, for safety reasons (and perhaps to enhance Marquez’s chances of tightening the 2017 championship), the 2016 chicane would be used starting in FP3 and for the rest of the weekend, due to concerns about the racing surface where the old crappy asphalt and new crappy asphalt met: bumps, low grip, different composition, plague, locusts, etc. Marquez, on Saturday, expressed his gratitude for their consideration by crashing four times, with a fifth fall on Sunday for good measure.

Marshalls help Marc Marquez get back up and running after a crash during qualifying.

This was also good news for Jack Miller, who had been mistakenly using the 2016 chicane during all eight of his FP1 laps, until he was black flagged. But it meant that FP3 alone would determine who went through to Q2 and which two of the remaining 13 would have to earn spots in the front four rows. (I may have messed up the tire controversy last time out, but I KNOW Lorenzo has been lobbying to have FP3 deemed the only session to determine qualifying pools.)

10 Lambs, in FP3 order: Hondas Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, Alvaro Bautista (Ducati GP16) and Aprilia jinx Aleix Espargaro, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Andrea Iannone, the Pramac Racing team, Scott Redding leading Danilo Petrucci, and Hector Barbera, looking on Friday like he was doing motocross on his GP16, fighting it to a draw on Saturday morning.

The Yamahas just didn’t seem to have it this weekend.

13 Goats, in arbitrary order: both factory Yamahas, both Tech 3 Yamahas, Cal Crutchlow, the Marc VDS team, Loris Baz and the Down’N’Outs – Suzuki sub Sylvain Guintoli, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith (Laverne and Shirley) on the KTM, my boy Karel Abraham (Ducati GP15) and Sad Sam Lowes’ Aprilia.

Q1 was going to be a show. Six Ducatis had automatically qualified to chase the Repsol Hondas in Q2; the law of averages itself increased the statistical likelihood of a Ducati win on Sunday.

Viñales and Folger fought their way through Q1, leaving notables with names like Valentino Rossi, Crutchlow and Johann Zarco to start back in the pack, Crutchlow from 17th. Rossi and Zarco, especially, missed out on Q2 by a few hundredths of a second each.

“Wait, Bruce said WHAT about us?”

Obviously, Dani and Jorge heard about our challenge to their Alien credentials on Wednesday, as Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Danilo Petrucci formed the front row during Q2; Marquez, having crashed four separate times during the day and having completely run out of motorcycles, would still start Sunday at the top of the second row, Viñales ninth in his worst qualifying yet on the Yamaha. Bradley Smith crashed heavily in practice and sustained injuries to his left hand that would keep him out of today’s race.

Several weeks ago we observed that Petrucci needed to fish or cut bait on the Ducati GP17. With a podium at Mugello and a front row start here, he has clearly responded to our encouragement. (Yes, we are aware he crashed out of fifth place in today’s race. Musta thought he had enough tire left to go for fourth.)

The 2017 Catalan GP

With Cal Crutchlow, Johann Zarco and the factory Yamahas stuck in the middle of the pack at the start, the lead group formed up with Jorge Lorenzo trying and failing to get away on his factory Ducati, followed by the Repsol Hondas, Dovizioso keeping his powder dry in fourth. Lorenzo’s day went from good to bad to good again, as we watched him slip from first to as low as ninth before finding something when his fuel load dropped, ultimately finishing fourth when Petrucci went down on Lap 23.

Jorge Lorenzo is showing signs of improvement. He led for a few laps before dropping as far back as eighth but still managed to fight his way up to finish fourth.

Up front, as Lorenzo was fading out of the picture, Dovizioso was keeping cool tracking the Hondas. Marquez and Pedrosa were making momentary moves on one another through the middle of the race until Lap 17, when Dovi went through on Pedrosa into the lead he would keep for the rest of the day. Marquez later passed Pedrosa who appeared, reputation aside, to have shot his tires to pieces earlier in the race.

For most of the day, the factory and Tech3 Yamahas (with the exception of Jonas Folger, who was able to stay in touch with the lead group until his own tires began to disintegrate) loitered around in the middle of the pack, unable to make any impression on the lead or even second groups. Late in the day Johann Zarco had recovered enough ground to punk teammate Folger for fifth, while both Rossi and Viñales made gradual progress in the second half, Rossi ending his day in eighth while Viñales suffered to tenth place, hometown humiliation, and six points.

Tech3’s Johann Zarco was the top Yamaha rider this weekend.

Despite all the problems the Yamaha teams experienced over the weekend – none passing directly through to Q2, Folger and Viñales the only escapees from Q1 – eventually all four finished in the top ten. Riders having notable days today (keeping in mind that all things are relative) included Rossi (S13, P8) and Crutchlow (S17, P11). Zarco was most impressive, having started 14th and finishing fifth, while Dovizioso, who started from the top of the third row, has pulled himself into credible contention for the 2017 title. Today’s results leave him in second place, trailing series leader Viñales by a mere seven points. During the after-race presser he said, “Today was the first time in my career I win a race without pushing to the limit.” Uh oh.

Hands up, anyone who expected Andrea Dovizioso to sit second overall and be a credible threat to the championship at this point in the season.

Final Thoughts

Michelin still has issues when the temperatures soar, as they did today. With venues like Aragon, Brno, and Sepang yet to come, Michelin needs to develop a compound for both fronts and rears that will stand up to the heat. I agree with readers who have expressed the opinion that the Michelins perform fine in cool and moderate temps. But with a quarter of the races held in places where it can get as hot as Sepang, my own personal vision of hell, the races devolve into a competition to see who can nurse their tires through the entire however many laps.

Alex Marquez won his second Moto2 race of the season, moving him up to third in the championship, just 20 points back of the leader, Franco Morbidelli.

Alex Marquez won his second race of the season in Moto2 after a disastrous first two seasons in the middle division. Some years ago, around 2013, I read comments that suggested Alex was faster than Marc one-on-one, and that Alex Rins, currently on the injured list, was faster than either of the Marquez brothers. Such has not turned out to be the case. Alex is only 21 years old, and if he has finally figured out the 600cc Moto2 Kalex, it’s only a matter of time until he gets his ticket punched to MotoGP. It appears unlikely he will compete with his brother or rival Rins for quite some time. It also appears that folks were overstating Rins’ potential, based upon what he had shown us in MotoGP prior to his injuries. No instant sensation like Marquez and Viñales.

Joan Mir, leading the Moto3 series for Leopard Racing, will be moving up to the Estrella Galicia Moto2 team next year on a three-year deal that sounds like the third season might be with Honda in MotoGP. Mir pulled off a scintillating win today at Montmelo to pad his lead in Moto3. The Moto2 race today was not up to its usual riotous standard, as Marquez led wire to wire in the first truly easy race I’ve ever seen him complete in Moto2. I keep waiting for him to morph into the second coming of Marc. Perhaps today was the day. Probably not.

Meanwhile, in Moto3, Joan Mir won his fourth of the season, giving him a comfortable 45-point lead over Romano Fenati.

Two weeks to the Assen/Sachsenring back-to-back. The plot, at this point, has truly thickened. Now there are five riders with legitimate aspirations to the 2017 title. We leave you with a cliffhanger until we arrive at Assen: Will there be five riders in Tranche 1 for the first time ever? Could Valentino Rossi fall into Tranche 2? Stay tuned.

  • Old MOron

    Great write-up, Bruce. I think you nailed all the high and low points. I give Marquez a lot of credit for 2nd place after he spent more time in the gravel traps than on the pavement on Friday and Saturday.

    But you need to start watching Moto 3. You would’ve seen an amazing race. Seemed like for the entire race, whoever was in 3rd or 4th coming out of the last corner would wind up in the lead going into the 1st corner. Worth getting up early just to see Fenati ride around the outside of turn one and then slam it up the inside of turn two over and over.

    • Watched it, loved it, very similar slipstreaming to Mugello. Both are great tracks. I’m starting to get it with Moto3. Thanks for staying after me.

    • Ozzy Mick

      I’m glad you guys enjoyed watching the races. Me? I’m pissed off. Back in Oz, looking forward to watching the race, set the alarm for 3am for the advertised 3.30am telecast, got comfy on the couch, and there was… nothing, zip, nada, nyet!
      So thanks for the write up Bruce, and all the commenters.

      • Old MOron

        Oh, no! But Mick, 3 AM?…

        If the race went off at 2:00 PM in Barcelona, that would be about 10:00 PM down under, no?

        • Ozzy Mick

          Si Senor OldMO… only delayed telecast. But not even that now!
          Telecast on network owned by Murdoch, he of Fox news fame (or infamy), and latest rumour is that he will shut it down anytime soon.
          BTW, what are your thoughts on Stoner’s impact as test rider at Ducati?

          • Old MOron

            Ha ha, I don’t have a clue as to the inner workings at Ducati… but I’m happy to speculate!

            I’m guessing that Stoner is a desirable test rider on two planes.

            One: he can push the bike to its limits and give feedback as to how the bike behaves at the very edge of performance. I’m sure he’s been highly successful on this plane.

            Two: the last bike he rode (to a championship, no less) was the Honda. So his feedback to Ducati can move them closer to feel of Honda’s championship-winning bike. Both Dovi and Jorge say the current Ducati is not going to win any championships yet, so maybe Casey’s influence hasn’t manifested itself in the bike yet. On the other hand, Dovi’s results indicate that maybe Casey’s feedback is having a strong effect.

  • Starmag

    Dovi is bucking for alien status with his out-of-this-world riding the last two weeks. I hope he keeps it up and Ducati is a credible threat to win every week. It’s a real shame Suzuki isn’t a contender yet as well to further upset the Honda/Yamaha parade. It’s going to be hard to top the unpredictability of last year, but we’re off to a good start.

  • JMDGT

    The next race especially if the tires are better will tell us a lot. Nothing like stating the obvious.

    • This confirms what I’ve heard about you from your boss, that you have a genuine flair for the obvious. 😉

      • JMDGT

        Just when I think I have some insight I realize I’ve got nothing. Moto GP is way too dynamic for me to predict anything. On occasion I am able to see a contributing factor to the reality the riders and teams deal with. At least I think I do. That is what makes it so enjoyable. For me anyway.

  • spiff

    I am kind of impressed by Aprilia. Yes, they have to become reliable, but when the bike is running it seems to be decent. Aleix was putting in some good practice times. During the race he was falling off, but at that point so was Lorenzo, and he was able to hold on.

    • “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” They need a week in which everything goes right and Aleix ends up on the podium. A breakthrough. Oh, and send Lowes packing. Replace him with one of the hot young Italians from the junior classes.

      • spiff

        Too soon Bruce, too soon. Lol

  • spiff

    Question: Is Lorenzo unable to deal with the tire falling off, or is his riding using up the tire quicker then the others? He was good once everyone else’s tire fell off.

    • Old MOron

      Have a look at Jorge’s laps: http://resources.motogp.com/files/results/2017/CAT/MotoGP/RAC/Analysis.pdf

      I don’t think he had such a problem with the tires falling off. I think he just didn’t have the pace.

      Look at laps 1 – 5. There’s no difference between Jorge and Dovi. In fact Jorge lead the first five laps, but there was no difference in the lap times.

      Then on lap six, Jorge’s lap times got worse. Everyone else in the lead group maintained a fast pace. Did Jorge’s tire’s fall off before everyone else’s? I don’t think so. He’s too smooth a rider for that.

      I think he was basically over riding the bike in the early laps. After a while he simply couldn’t keep it up. In the latter stages of the race, people like Folger and Petrux hit their own brick walls, making Lorenzo seem to have a resurgence.

      • I think, for Lorenzo, this process he’s going through is a lot like learning to hit a golfball opposite from your usual side. You may be a 2 handicap right-handed, but you start out as a 50 handicap left-handed and gradually try to improve. I’d say he’s back down to a 10.

        • Kos

          Yes. No sooner did it look like Lorenzo was on his way to an Aprilia or KTM contract as he worked his way (back) through the pack, he makes nice passes through the last half of the race.

          “the races devolve into a competition to see who can nurse their tires through the entire however many laps.” Bang on, Bruce. Count me in the camp that is a bit weary of this. Is there any chance of M losing the tire contract for 18?

          • Pretty sure these tire deals are 6 year things. I honestly don’t understand who makes money off of whom when it comes to tires, but FIM or someone must have the authority to direct Michelin to get these fronts sorted out or, or, or I’ll tell Carmelo on you!!! Prepare to get about a dozen responses to your comment. Well done.

  • Ian Parkes

    So pleased for Dovi! Dovi! Dovi! but his comment about winning without trying hard is revealing. The Duke had such speed down the long straight Dani had to punish his front tyre in braking to stay in front and inevitably he ran out of tyre sooner than Dovi. Although he can punt that Ducati around much better than Lorenzo, I dont see him keeping this up on smaller tracks.

  • Vrooom

    I think Lorenzo has earned that Tranche 2 status now. Dovi might have moved into Tranche 1? Rossi is regretting crashing out of 2nd earlier in the year. It’s hard to believe that they can’t get tires to last 23 laps, I hate to admit I used to get 2 track days out of my tires, but not being the rider or having the bike these guys do apparently makes the difference between having a bit left after 120 laps and not lasting half of 23. Given they can have the best tires that Michelin can produce, it’s odd there isn’t a solution. It’s also strange that Zarco and Folger were not as effected? Lower performance bikes perhaps not as hard on the bike, not that the difference is that big?

  • spiff

    Rossi is still Tranche 1. Yamaha might deserve to be dropped. Sometimes you have to go with the group, Yamaha should have been at that test.

    • I’ve got bad news about Rossi. To be in Tranche 1, at a minimum, you need to have won at least one race during the past 12 months. Catalunya 2016. Sorry. Likely to change after Assen?

      • spiff

        This is crap. Vinales is to blame. If he left Rossi alone in Le mans we wouldn’t be having this problem.

        • I know this is going to be hard for you. The rest of the guys and I want you to know we’ve got your back, and as soon as The Good Doctor graces us with a win he will be WHISKED back into Tranche 1. Until then, scoreboard.

        • So, first it’s Yamaha’s fault. Then it’s Vinales’ fault. It has nothing to do with being 30-something, having a schedule packed from early until late, being a corporate money-generating machine, and getting more ass than a toilet seat in a sorority? Time happens. We age. If we’re lucky.

          • spiff

            Nope it’s Vinales fault! Me and the tiger ain’t speaking.

            Hey, I didn’t blame the tires this week. I think I’m getting better.

          • Gruf Rude

            You should have blamed the tires.

          • spiff

            I’ve heard people say “I don’t want to get old”, I reply with what are the options.

  • Randy Hanks

    Bruce,

    Not trying to say that you are wrong, but Dovi won Assen last year, which was before Sepang. Doesn’t change the fact it was a 7 year drought for him! Go Ducati!

    • Um, Jack Miller won (Race 2) at Assen last year. Dovi won Race 1, which didn’t count. He got his win at Sepang. 🙂 On the rare occasions I’m right I need to point it out for the editors.

  • I kind of like this idea that for Lorenzo it’s like learning to play golf from the other side. It takes such a long time to get your handicap back down to where it was–if you ever can–that it’s also a terrible idea. The Duc is no longer as difficult to ride as it was when Stoner ruled the earth, but it is still very different from, say, every other bike out there. Notice how Stoner could hop directly from the Duc to the Honda and win right away. Rossi won again after his perdition, but not at the previous rate, having lost two of his prime years. Ducati needs to grow their own riders, bring them up through earlier iterations of the bike, and have them earn promotions to the factory team. No more spectacular Rossi fails, no more grandiose expectations for a Lorenzo trying to relearn how to ride. If I were a suit at Ducati Corse looking ahead I would hold on tight to Dovizioso and, when Lorenzo bolts after 2018, promote Michele Pirro or Daniel Petrucci to the factory team, with Bautista and Barbera available as back-ups.