For the second time this season, Factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and Repsol Honda prodigy Marc Marquez gave us a late-race knives-in-a-phonebooth duel, a ten-point spread in the standings at the top of the heap at stake. And for the second time this season, Dovizioso prevailed in what was almost a carbon copy of the first win, a last lap exchange of fortunes in Austria. Now it’s Two for the Road, as the two “blessed” riders in this year’s championship, separated by 11 points, seem destined to square off in Valencia.

Embed from Getty Images

Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez battled down to the finish line, with less than a quarter of a second separating them at the checkered flag.

Then There Were Two

Entering today’s race, there were, like, two and a half contenders for the title, as Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi had been eliminated every which way but mathematically, and Yamaha savant Maverick Viñales was hanging on to contention by his fingernails. Now, with all three chasers having had counterproductive days, it has come down to Marquez and Dovizioso.

Embed from Getty Images

It’s been a long journey for Andrea Dovizioso, from Repsol Honda’s #3 rider to second-fiddle at Ducati to title contender.

Both riders, as we’ve said before, are at the top of their respective games. Unfortunately, it took Dovi an extra few years to arrive, causing him to miss the rock star status afforded the Spaniard. But he is the only rider out there able to trail Marquez for the lead and the title and feel good about it. The most successful Ducati pilot of the last ten years, Dovizioso appears to welcome these last lap duels, treating them like tic-tac-toe matches in which one gradually limits the possible responses available to the opponent until the door is closed. In post-race interviews, he and Marquez laughed about knowing the strategy each other would use in the last few turns.

Practice and Qualifying

Racing in the rain on Friday and Saturday produced a set of Unusual Suspects in both Q1 and Q2. Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso especially found things suiting their fancies on Friday and led the way directly into Q2 joined, eventually, by the likes of both factory Suzuki riders, Pedrosa and Danilo Petrucci, Johann Zarco, Rossi, Lorenzo, and one Aleix Espargaro, having flogged his Aprilia RS-GP to the third best combined time on the grid.

Embed from Getty Images

Aleix Espargaro and the Aprilia team continue to make progress.

The wet conditions, as always, pushed some familiar names down into Q1; the Usual Suspects welcomed Viñales, Cal Crutchlow, Alvaro Bautista and the cadre of Japanese subs and wildcards to the nether regions. The feel-good moment of the entire weekend occurred at the end of Q1 when both factory KTMs advanced into Q2. For being an enormous Austrian engineering and manufacturing behemoth KTM sure attracts a lot of warm fuzzies from MotoGP fans, with their bold colors, plucky riders and virtually unlimited budgets.

Q2, as usual, offered a number of great moments and a case study in not counting one’s eggs before they hatch. Marquez laid down a rapid early lap on rain tires, looking invincible, and rode around for awhile on a drying track before pitting and ending the session futilely on slicks. Rossi tried to qualify on slicks, desperately seeking solutions, failed, and would start Sunday’s race in 12th position.

Embed from Getty Images

Johann Zarco secured his second MotoGP pole position.

A number of riders chose to attempt their flying lap on the last go-round, including Petrucci into a blistering second, Aleix Espargaro missing the front row by an eyelash, and Zarco, coming out of nowhere, seized his second premier class pole of 2017 on the 2016 Yamaha. (His first, at Assen, led to a 14th place finish.) With top pursuers Andrea Dovizioso starting 9th and Maverick Viñales 14th, the title chase appeared primed to take a beating on Sunday.

As the Lights Went Out

Jorge Lorenzo followed Marquez’s hole shot into second place at the start and took the lead in Turn 9. Petrucci on the Pramac Ducati and polesitter Zarco had their noses in it, with Dovizioso going through on Zarco on Lap 2 and Petrucci doing the same to Lorenzo to take the lead. With Doviozoso in the mix and Viñales out of it, the front four became, on Lap 4, Petrucci, Lorenzo, Marquez and Dovizioso. A Ducati triple-team on poor young Marc. Not to worry. Lorenzo began to actively work his way backwards, falling from podium contention to 8th by Lap 6.

My boy Cal Crutchlow pitted on Lap 6 and crashed out on Lap 16. Rossi, enjoying a miserable weekend in the rain, crashed out on Lap 6, too, joined by Karel Abraham and Kohta Nozane subbing for Jonas Folger on the Tech 3 Yamaha. For Nozane, the weekend must have been like you or me being dropped into the cockpit of Miss Budweiser in time for Thunder on the Ohio. No problem, the life vest inflates upon impact! For Rossi, his second crash in two years here puts an exclamation point on his disappointing 2017 season.

Embed from Getty Images

A pair of Ducatis in Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci sandwich Marc Marquez and his Honda.

Anyway, early on it appeared Petrucci might get away for his first ever premier class win, until both Marquez and Dovizioso reeled him in. On Lap 14, both went through on the swarthy Italian, consigned him to a distant third step on the podium, and rode off for their private confab.

Mano à Mano for Ten Laps

After a few rather relaxed laps of lining him up, Doviozoso sailed through on Marquez on Lap 19, with Marquez returning the favor, a bit rudely, on Lap 22. This was the point at which I expected Marquez to get away. Instead, they exchanged the lead several more times until Lap 24, when Doviozoso found himself surviving a final desperate dive from Marquez with the extra drive coming out of Victory Corner necessary to pimp the Spaniard at the flag. This is a Reader’s Digest summary of what was a number of laps of insanely great racing by the two best in the game at this moment in history.

Embed from Getty Images

Andrea Dovizioso won out this day but Marc Marquez maintains an 11-point lead in the championship.

Elsewhere on the Grid

Fan favorite Aleix Espargaro drove his Aprilia from a 4th place start, a whisker off the front row, to a satisfying 7th place finish. The KTMs of Smith and Espargaro cleared Q1 and started 7th and 8th, respectively. Though they could only manage 11th (Espargaro) and 19th (Smith) things are looking up in KTMTown. The factory Suzuki team, fronted by Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins, came to sudden life this weekend, qualifying 10th and 11th and finishing – gasp – 4th (Iannone) and 5th (Rins). Two Suzukis in the top five, in the rain.

Embed from Getty Images

Suzuki had its best weekend of the season, with Alex Rins fifth and Andrea Iannone fourth.

For the moment, two riders have lost their Alien status; Tranche 1 has been pared down. Tranches 2 and 3 are, therefore, inflated.

After Round 14 – Aragon

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi
Tranche 2: Pedrosa, Zarco, Lorenzo, A. Espargaro, Bautista
Tranche 3: Crutchlow, Rins, Folger, Petrucci, P. Espargaro
Tranche 4: Miller, Iannone, Redding, Barbera, Baz, Rabat
Tranche 5: Abraham, Smith, Lowes

After Round 15 – Motegi

Tranche 1: Marquez, Dovizioso
Tranche 2: Viñales↓, Pedrosa, Rossi↓, Zarco, Lorenzo, A. Espargaro, Petrucci↑
Tranche 3: Rins, Folger, P. Espargaro, Iannone↑, Baz↑, Bautista↓
Tranche 4: Crutchlow↓, Miller, Redding, Barbera, Rabat
Tranche 5: Abraham, Smith, Lowes

Marching to Praetoria

Time just to catch our breath before coming up with a completely new, more Australian set of out-of-round observations about some people’s favorite sport. At least at this point we can narrow our focus down to the two top guys, both of whom need to do some serious crashing before Maverick Viñales becomes relevant again.

Phillip Island appears custom-designed for the Desmosedici GP17. We have some research to do prior to mid-week, when the Australian GP preview comes your way. All I’m willing to say for sure, at this point, is that a meaningful Valencia finale just became more plausible, not less. Personally, I would like to see Dovi beat Marquez 1-2 in the next two rounds, at which point they would go to Valencia separated by a single point.

Embed from Getty Images

With 11 points to make up and three more rounds remaining, Andrea Dovizioso has a shot of catching Marc Marquez and winning his first MotoGP championship.

It could happen. Dovizioso needs no worse than a draw with Marquez over the next two rounds. Another win, or two, would be utterly convenient. As he has obviously learned by now, championships are won by putting the hammer down in those clutch, fight-or-flee moments. Throwing caution to the wind and letting your instincts and balance take over. He and the bike are finally one. He knows Marquez is going to come with both barrels blazing. As he did today, he needs to continue to channel the late Tom Petty:

“Well, I won’t back down.
No I won’t back down.
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down…
Gonna stand my ground.”

—Tom Petty
“I Won’t Back Down”
  • Dootin

    Yamaha is just busting out beast mode on the world!

  • Jim

    Damn, Yamaha has some good media people. They don’t even show the bike but the videos make me want it!

  • Gruf Rude

    Wow! Just WOW! What a race! Champion performances by both Dovi and MM. I’ve felt for years that motorcycle grand prix was the pinnacle of asphalt motor sport, but the last few seasons have been increasingly incredible. Wow . . .

  • mikstr

    so nice to see Dovi come into his own this season

  • spiff

    Motogp, good to the last drop.

  • JMDGT

    Go Dovizioso. End transmission.

    • Kirkland

      Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
      On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      !ka178:
      ➽➽
      ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleInternetComunityPlanetWorkFromHome/online/easytasks ★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫:::::!ka178lzzzzz

      • JMDGT

        Mange merde et morte.

  • Ian Parkes

    It would be hard to beat the Austrian bullfight for sheer excitement except with more of the same… and we got even more of the same. Unbefreakinlievable. My respect for Dovi has gone up another notch. You’d swear he was the kind of guy who’d choose to live to fight another day when Marquez is going banzai but, as Bruce said more eloquently, to win a world championship – or even get to the top of this sport – you need to go to the knife edge and Dovi has shown us he has the moxy to trust his instincts to make the cut.

    • BDan75

      I didn’t see the post-race interviews, but today it seemed like he’d decided to play it conservative on the last lap–just bring home the easy 2nd–until Marquez almost binned it. But maybe that was part of the strategy, let Marc think he was cruising…until suddenly he wasn’t. As massive a moment as MM had, AD didn’t seem to gain all that much from it.

      • spiff

        I don’t think Dovi was being conservative, but I do think he was accepting 2nd until Marquez slipped. Marquez will probably win the championship because of moves like that. 99.9% of the time that would have resulted in zero points. Marquez just let’s the bike find it’s way and continues on. Such incredible instinct. This all coming from a guy that loves to see someone pass the 93.

        • Kos

          Maybe Marquez sped up due to reduced friction when he used his elbow to lever his tire off the tarmac?!

          • spiff

            He’ll perfect it during the off season, and it will be a common as the “Bubba scrub”.

      • spiff

        I thought the same, that Dovi didn’t close the gap much when Marquez slipped. Maybe Marquez lost just enough momentum, but as at least one other has said, Dovi was crazy committed on the straight. Both on the throttle and the brakes. He’s got brass balls.

  • spiff

    Dovi has beat Marquez straight up for the second time. Not many have that feather in their cap. If I were forced to put money on one it would still be Marquez, but Dovi is no joke.

    Anyone notice that when Lorenzo drops though the field it is like a stone, then he stabilizes and others fall off more than him. Is he wearing the tire out faster than others, but able to deal with what is left, or is he letting off earlier to save some tire for the end?

    • Gruf Rude

      He dropped immediately after being hit by Zarco, but you have definitely identified his pattern over this season. Being elbowed aside by Zarco broke his concentration, but I’ll bet you have his tire management strategy nailed.

      • dBassDrumr

        I think Lorenzo has some confidence issues as well. He seems to get spooked real easy and loses pace more than any other rider. Some races his pace goes up and down. His recent improvement has been down to having more confidence with his new machine.

        • Gruf Rude

          Agreed. Confidence or the lack of it is a huge thing with 99.

  • Deryl Clark

    The National pride thing comes into play. Rossi and Petrucci both have got the go to mix it up with Marquez enough to slow him down. If it is dry Pedrosa and Vinales can do the same to Dovi. I’m sure Lorenzo likes his pay check to much to worry about National pride this year.

  • Starmag

    Great race. Last year and this year have been my favorites since I started watching. Considering that the next highest Honda was 15th(!) Eminem put in another incredible performance on the Honda whiich seems to have a disadvantage in the wet, whereas that seems to be Ducati’s forte. Kudos to Desmo Dovi nevertheless. If the next three races are dry he’ll have a even tougher challenge to stay near the sliding Wonderkid.

  • Ozzy Mick

    I’m totally blown away that they even raced in such appalling conditions. Watching the first few laps, l had to wonder if l was watching a jet ski race. There were even rooster tails! How in blazes could the riders see through the spray?!?
    Respect to ALL the riders, but especially Dovi and MM. Bring on Phillip Island!

    • Ozzy Mick

      Oops, l accidentally Liked my post. 😛

      • Old MOron

        Interesting info, Mick. Dovi is heeding Casey’s input. I wonder if Lorenzo declines to do the same.

        Have fun at the race! Are you going to ride there, too? So far, only Wednesday looks annoying. https://www.wunderground.com/forecast/au/phillip-island

        PS: you can click on the upvote icon and Disqus will toggle your vote on and off.

        • Ozzy Mick

          Well Old MO, Snr Tadozzi was quoted as saying Casey’s advice was to ride to the strengths of the Duc (acceleration and brakes, and manage the weaknesses). Seems obvious, but maybe something got lost in the translation with Lorenzo who may have thought Casey said hard on the brakes, and slow in the acceleration?
          Unfortunately not riding to PI this year. Still thinking about flying down. Thanks for the heads up on the weather – appreciate it, but have forgotten temps in fahrenheit.

          • Old MOron

            Oops, guess that was a bit of seppo centrism there. Sorry about that. I’ll buy you a tinnie some day. Hope you make it to the Island.

  • Old MOron

    Inspired race summary, Bruce. Good onya.
    (Just warming up my Aussie lingo for next week.)

    The two contenders laughed about knowing each other’s strategy:

    MM: I knew he would backpedal and drop his hands, so I went for the KO.

    AD: I knew he would throw the haymaker, so I slipped it and floored him with a hook to his liver.

    Heh, AD and all of us hoping to let Valencia decide had the best laugh.
    That was an awesome race. Bring on Australia.

    PS: I know you’re trying to draw a haymaker from the yellow fans, but the race was too good to trifle with your errors.

    • Ozzy Mick

      Onya cobber! I’m looking forward to Dovi riding like a lizard drinking, and MM buzzing around like a blue house fly. She’ll be right if either wins, no worries mate.

  • dBassDrumr

    What a thrill of a race. I don’t have any real favorite riders but having the chance to make Valencia decide had me whooping in my chair every time Dovi took the lead again. MotoGP is one of those sports where you can enjoy watching and have admiration for all the players not needing to really route for anyone.

  • Kos

    “Personally, I would like to see Dovi beat Marquez 1-2 in the next two rounds, at which point they would go to Valencia separated by a single point.”

    I’m with you there! Great race and great summary, Bruce!

    Put a few shrimp on the barbie for me!

  • Vrooom

    At this point I’m pulling for Dovi. Anyone but Marquez, however I’m good with Valencia being the deciding round. Not sure I love the new compressed class 1 in the tranches, it’s relevant to the championship, but perhaps not to the races. That’s why it’s yours. Nice write up as always Bruce, those last few laps were awesome.