Honda triple MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez survived a crowded, snappish, paint-trading lead group today for the win that now makes the 2017 championship his to lose. With Yamahas everywhere, and guys like Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone bouncing around like pinballs, it was just another picture-perfect Phillip Island grand prix. The confounding Valentino Rossi somehow finished second today, teammate Maverick Viñales third. But having both factory Yamahas on the podium felt like a small achievement on the same day the team’s faint hopes for a championship came to an end.

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Yamaha had a good showing at Phillip Island, finishing second through fourth, but Marc Marquez’s victory officially knocked Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales out of title contention.

The championship race, which has been tight all season, came unwound today. Andrea Dovizioso completed his dumpster fire of a weekend by getting broken at the line by both Scott Redding and Dani Pedrosa for a miserable 13th place finish, his deficit to Marquez ballooning from 11 to 33 points. Viñales was eliminated from title contention today, as Marquez now leads him by 50 points and holds the tiebreaker. The first match point between Marquez and Dovizioso comes next week. If Marquez can hold onto 26 of his 33-point lead, it will suddenly become game over, see ya next year.

Notes from Practice and Qualifying

FP2 on sunny and windy Saturday saw the top 13 riders in the 1:29’s, led by my boy Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia at 1:29.225. Everyone improved on their previous best times in FP1. With the weather expected to become inhospitable on Saturday, the FP2 times, which would then determine who passed directly into Q2, excluded both Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, who would have to battle their way through Q1. Oy. Such indeed proved to be the case.

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After initially criticizing its Italian rival’s aerodynamics, Aprilia has adopted a design that looks similar to Ducati’s setup.

Both qualifying sessions were run on dry track. Rossi and Brad Smith – I know, right? – escaped to Q2, Smith with teammate Pol Espargaro putting both KTMs into Q2 for the second week in a row, a definite sign of improvement in 2017 for the Austrian giant. Lorenzo starting 16th should put to rest all this talk about him finally coming around, after laying it down in the grass during FP4.

Q2 ended with several riders flirting with disaster (notably Dovizioso, mucking around in 11th, and Lorenzo) and several others delivering first class rides, including polesitter Marquez, who took it from Viñales, who had taken it from odds-on Rookie-of-the-Year favorite Johann Zarco. Australian Jack Miller gave his homeys a thrill qualifying 5th. Oddly, there were no Ducatis in the top ten and only one, Dovizioso, in the first four rows. And at a track I used to think plays up to their strengths, but I guess not. It did in the Stoner days. No Ducs were in the front row at PI for the first time since 2006.

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Jack Miller returned from injury with a solid race in front of his home fans.

Good for the title chase is Marquez (fourth consecutive PI pole) and Viñales on the front row. Bad for the title chase is Dovizioso sitting on row four. Marquez telling Dylan Gray how comfortable he feels on the bike these days is bad news for the field. Dovi shrugged off his worst qualifying session since Jerez, claiming his race pace had him feeling confident. Marquez would give that confidence a test tomorrow afternoon.

All six manufacturers were represented in Q2. Very good sign for the sport. Marquez enters the second of three Pacific rounds with a perfect game plan: Lead, somehow, by 26 points or more heading home to Valencia.

Race Day

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The first of the 2017 Grand Prix world championships has been decided with Joan Mir taking the Moto3 title.

Sunday morning’s warm-up practice was run on a wet track, the results somewhat meaningless, although Marquez still found his way to the top. By the time the main event rolled around (after Joan Mir had clinched the Moto3 title and KTM had swept the top two positions in Moto2, deferring Franco Morbidelli’s title celebration, like Marquez’, to next week), the track was dry, the sun was shining, and the breeze had dropped. The heavy black rain clouds heading toward the track had the announcers speculating about a likely flag-to-flag race which, to the disappointment of many, failed to materialize.

Although Marquez took the holeshot into Turn 1, Jack Miller, screaming out of the middle of the second row, took the lead in Turn 2 and appeared to be actually getting away early. The vast majority of the crowd immediately went completely mental, convinced Stoner’s Australian Magic had descended upon Jackass, looking forward to hearing the national anthem twice in one day. Such was not to be, either, though he managed a very respectable 7th today and may need re-tranching.

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Today’s race featured a lot of close battles, as illustrated by the narrow margins in the final results.

What happened was that a lead group of eight riders started trading paint in the corners for about 20 laps, resembling a hybrid of Moto3 and NASCAR. The contestants included Marquez, Rossi, Viñales, Miller, Zarco, Cal Crutchlow, Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia, and Andrea Iannone looking aggressive on the Suzuki. I do not recall ever seeing as many passes in the front group as we saw today. Nor have I seen more bumping and grinding in the turns, with most of the eight brawlers sporting black tire marks on their leathers afterwards. At the post-race presser, Rossi complained a little bit about the danger involved in all the bumping from the younger riders (i.e., everyone), but all three podium finishers agreed “that’s racing” and Race Direction found it necessary to examine exactly zero of the, um, collisions.

Lap 22 of 27 turned out to be critical. Viñales had just taken the lead from Marquez when he got tagged by Iannone, causing his heart to stop beating for a moment as he wobbled back to seventh place. Marquez, who had the lead on the previous lap, retook it, leaving Rossi, Zarco and Iannone to slug it out for the last two podium spots, Rossi on one leg. While the three were slicing each other up, Viñales came storming back and, at the wire, slipped in front of Zarco by 1/100th of a second to deprive the Frenchman of his second premier class podium, the first since Le Mans. It was, indeed, a day of finish line punking, as illustrated by the following deficits to Marquez:

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KTM made solid strides at Phillip Island. Pol Espargaro qualified on the second row and both he and Bradley Smith finished the race in the top 10, ahead of all of the Ducatis.

It’s nice to see both KTMs and both Suzukis in the Top Ten. On the other hand, Phillip Island was a debacle of epic proportions for Ducati Corse as their top finisher (from eight that started) was Redding in 11th place. Someone somewhere knows how long it’s been since a Ducati failed to finish in the top ten. Dovizioso, the top title challenger coming into the weekend, got caught up in the generally bad juju the Ducati teams experienced all weekend, and watched as the last best title opportunity of his premier class career mostly went away. And, BTW, Johann Zarco and his Tech 3 Yamaha are developing a reputation as the second coming of The Maniac. Not a compliment.

On to Sweltering Sepang

The teams continue the grueling Pacific swing with their annual visit to Malaysia, much of the season’s suspense and excitement having been dissipated by another brilliant performance from Marquez, for whom the second half of 2017 has been, well, kind of easy. Podiums everywhere since Mugello with the exception of having thrown a rod at Silverstone. Now leading the season series by 33 points with two rounds left, he is speaking out loud about the need to be patient and protective of his nascent championship. He needs only to beat a gutted Andrea Dovizioso next week to claim his fourth premier class title in five seasons.

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Andrea Dovizioso has just two rounds left to make up 33 points – a difficult task but not impossible.

Sepang, with its raving crowds, broiling tarmac, torrential rain and friendly layout, is where the 2017 title will likely be awarded. Until then, like him or hate him, let’s just salute Marc Marquez for the workmanlike manner in which he approaches his job these days. Little flash, no bling, just superhuman balance, comically quick reflexes, a wide field of vision and a positive working relationship with his lizard brain.

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Marc Marquez can cement his fourth MotoGP title as soon as Sepang.
  • Born to Ride

    Rossi is still a BAMF.
    End transmission.

  • Starmag

    As you state, this was a paint swapping classic. It almost seemed like a Moto 3 race at times.

    Eminem may take exception to your assessment of his performance in the second half of the schedule being easy. He had to make about a million front and rear end saves in the wet and dry that would have put most of us down and tasting gravel or, at the minimum, having to change our underwear. Also, unlike El Gato who would get pole and then run away at the front, putting everyone asleep, Eminem has had to mix it up with competitors in almost all of the races.

    Great performance from the hobbled aging amateur motocrosser (MX injuries 5/7, 8/17). Motogp riders are gritty.

    Last week his Desmo-ness stated that he “had the measure of Marquez”. As it turns out that measure was +21.692 secs. He may need to re-assess or possibly consider more humble statements.

    Correct me if I’m wrong , but was that a smile I saw on the podium from Vinales?

    Kudos to Zarco (again).

    • BDan75

      I think so. I’ll give Vinales credit for not playing it up for the cameras, but still…if you’re gonna be cranky, at least be fun-cranky like Crutchlow!

  • Gruf Rude

    Did the Russians hack Ducati’s electronics and plant a virus? Or did Rossi prevail on his favorite tire company to deliver ‘seconds’ to the Red team? Come on MotoGP conspiracy theorists, there must be some nefarious reason for the ignominious collapse of the Ducati organization on a track at which they ought to FLY . . .
    And where did Crutchlow come from? The Maniac was WAY ahead of him with a lap to go . . .
    Seriously, I cannot recall a MotoGP race with that kind of faring-banging action ever and I’ve been following it since Hailwood!

    • Starmag

      “Did the Russians hack Ducati’s electronics and plant a virus?” lol. Classic snark. Good one.

    • Old MOron

      Two possibilities:

      1. Bad luck. Dovi was running podium pace, but he was stuck in the pack and never was a factor.

      2. The changes Gigi has made to the bike make it better at most tracks, but cost it its PI magic.

      • Ozzy Mick

        Did you notice the last minute rear tyre change on Dovi’s bike ON THE GRID? Apparently changed to a medium. And also him running wide off track and dropping lots of places?

      • I like #2. We’ve established that different bikes “like” different tracks. The fact is Stoner probably rode so many laps at Phillip Island that it kind of became a little shorter for him than it was for anyone else. In a sport measured in thousandths of a second it doesn’t take much. Kind of how Rossi used to be at Mugello.

    • Deryl Clark

      That is life with a Ducati in a nut shell, when every thing is right they are the fastest thing around………. but let a valve shim be off by 1/10,000 and a ’72 model CB 750 that needs it’s points filed will kick it’s ass.

  • spiff

    Zarco was the first to throw a punch, but nobody told the teacher, they all just joined in. Zarco was all in, no question. I agree with Bruce, he needs a touch more restraint.

    I think Marquez let Miller run at the front early. One letting have some time up there, but also Miller was willing to fight tooth and nail (and use up his tire) for his early lead. Turns out it was just a dangerous to hang with everyone else.

    Good on Suzuki, down force has treated them well. Also good on KTM. They are sorting the bike out, and still can add more down force with a fairing when they get the bike more dialed in. Did you hear the announcers mention Red Bull has offered Marquez a blank check to ride the KTM? That would be interesting.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      KTM will have four bikes in 2019 and some top tier riders. The Red Bull coffers are open. Many riders’ contracts are up in 2018.

    • Kos

      Zarco on a KTM? That would be crazy.

      Just like everybody said when Dungey followed Decoster to KTM. A career ending move.

      Except for all the championships that followed.

      And inarguably — except by a few fanbois — the best open class MX bike ever.

      • spiff

        Carmichael is the MX GOAT! 🙂

        Mark Marquez and Johann Zarco on the 2019 factory KTM. The Pull&Bear KTM satellite team will have Brad Binder and Alex Marquez. If Zarco won’t drink the factories orange Kool-Aid then Binder will. Would Pol keep his job?

        You heard it here first!

        As mentioned earlier in the week, they don’t use rubber rooms anymore for the sake of a good wifi connection. Now this information can be shared with the world.

    • BDan75

      I’d give that deal serious thought if I were MM. The KTM appears to be within striking range now, and part of establishing your legend as an up-and-coming GOAT is showing that you can win on different bikes.

  • JMDGT

    Hard to win a championship finishing 13th. Another day in MotoGP. Sheiss happens.

  • spiff

    Miller should get tuff guy creds. His best race of the year was on a broken leg.

    • Ozzy Mick

      Yeah, as they say in showbiz, break a leg Miller.

  • Shlomi

    After all the bumping around, Marc said enough is enough and pull couple of fast ones to leave everyone else fighting for second. I know we all wanted to see a thriller to the end, but lets face it, its Marquez above the rest. I’m not sure what I think about Zarco, he got a “reputation” but unlike the Maniac or other known troublemakers, he didn’t cause someone to crash this year (at least not the top riders). Consider his energy, ambition, and talent, I see him more and more the guy to take Rossi seat when he retire in 2050…

  • Old MOron

    Best race in a long time. Rossi’s laughing parc ferme commentary was perfect:
    “I really enjoyed that. It was a great race. All the riders were very aggressive, so you have to be more STUPID than them.”

  • Old MOron

    Hey Bruce, that was the best race we’ve had in a long time, maybe the best race ever. How come I sense a relative lack of excitement in your race summary? Is it because we probably won’t get to “Let Valencia decide” now? Man, that race was worth it!

    • You’re right. As I watched the race, Valencia became irrelevant again this year. The Pacific flight is such a poor place to win a title; it’s on TV in the late night/early morning when no one is watching. Folks then get to read about it if they can find it, below the crease on page 3 of the sports section, outside the U.S. Better all around for everyone if the title is won in Europe. I like spiff’s characterization of the race–no one called bullshit on the first contact, so everyone got to hit someone if they wanted. Seems Zarco and Iannone enjoy it more than the other guys, all of whom have done it. I like Zarco and how he rides, but he may be too old for eventual Alien status. He’ll be at least 29 before he gets a factory ride.

      • Gruf Rude

        And that is why I subscribe to MotoGP.com AND bookmark “No Spoiler”. Each morning during race weekend, I get up, pour my coffee, sit down at my computer and with great anticipation, go directly to free practice whichever, Q1, Q2, FP4 and finally the race on Sunday.

        Neither the Cheyenne Tribune-Eagle or even the Denver Post will ever have a word about motorcycle racing of any sort nor will local cable carry it, so the ‘net is my salvation and “No Spoiler” makes everything ‘live’ on my personal schedule. Sweet. . .

      • Gruf Rude

        I’ll throw in another possible reason for somewhat muted enthusiasm – the thought lurking in the background that all this bumping and banging, paint trading and rubber transfer is really not good for the sport. It’s all really exciting and great fun – until someone get hurt, or killed. Motorcycle roadracing has not been a contact sport – and it shouldn’t be. Occasional, inadvertent minor collisions can happen, but jamming a bike into a space where contact is inevitable as a race tactic is not viable in the long run.

  • Allison Sullivan

    Hands down he best race of the year. The dog was running circles in the lounge because I was yelling so much.

    I didn’t think Zarco was banging and crashing any more than the rest of them, but I am definitely looking forward to that boy gaining a cooler head and some more experience. It’s been amazing to see him cheeking everybody this season. If anyone’s in line for Alien wannabe, I nominate him, 2019.

  • Deryl Clark

    The problem for Marquez in the next two races is where to run…..
    Does he ride on the ragged edge and duke it our with Rossi, Vinales, Dovi, who he cam depend on not to take him out or back off and contend with Iannone, Miller, and Zarco who all have nothing to lose and are more than capable of taking him out.
    If he gets in front of the pack then he has only his self to worry about……. and that my friends is why he makes the big $$$$$$$

  • Kos

    All the contact is a bad idea. Supercross has gone down that road, to the point that almost anything goes theses days, and it has not been good for the sport.

    Don’t really need another NASCAR on the planet (though I’m not for a second suggesting that it doesn’t have it’s own huge appeal).