Round 11 of the 2017 MotoGP world championship will be remembered for the duel between Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso and Repsol Honda icon Marc Marquez on the race’s last lap. By then, a lead group of six or seven riders had shrunk to just the two top riders in this year’s series. At a track seemingly designed for the Ducati, Dovi held off the best rider on Earth by a fraction of a second in a race people will be talking about for years.

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Lorenzo looks strong at the start.

Practice and Qualifying

All three of the meaningful practice sessions leading up to Q1 were dry or mostly dry. Dovizioso owned Friday, at/near the top of both sheets, and, feeling confident, took some time off early in FP3 to visit a cute little used book store not far from the track, ending the session in 16th place. The Octo Pramac team could only be described as “cheesed off” after FP3. Redding, who will be riding an Aprilia next season, missed passing through to Q2 by 6/1000ths of a second. Teammate Danilo Petrucci was another full 6/1000ths behind Redding.

As expected, the Ducatis were loving themselves some Austria. In addition to Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo passed through to Q2 in an encouraging 4th place, while Loris Baz and Karel Abraham (having a better year than I expected) flogged their GP15s to a couple of fast laps and into the front four rows of the grid, regardless of what might happen in FP4 or, for that matter, qualifying itself. For these two riders, rapidly approaching “journeyman” status, this is a win. Punking Redding and Petrucci, both on newer bikes, had to feel pretty good, too.

Along with Marc Marquez, who led the way into Q2, most of the usual suspects did well. Johann Zarco, the factory Yamahas of Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, Lorenzo, and Cal Crutchlow appeared to have solid race pace. Andrea Iannone on the Suzuki produced one fast lap in three days but made the cut. Names failing to make the Q2 grade included Dani Pedrosa, Jonas Folger, Bautista, Barbera, both Espargaros and my boy Alex Rins (20th!).

When qualifying finally rolled around on Saturday afternoon, there was a discernible lack of drama in the proceedings. Pedrosa and Petrucci passed comfortably through to Q2. Marc Marquez, in the process of securing his 70th grand prix pole, laid down a blistering lap with about six minutes gone for provisional pole, pitted for new rubber, and did the same thing again with a few minutes left. In the process, he relegated the factory Ducatis to spots two and three on the front row. The second row formed up on Vinales, joined by Danilo Petrucci and Johann Zarco, with Rossi lurking dangerously in seventh, Pedrosa eighth.

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The contracting lead group.

Like the Old Days. For Awhile.

When the lights went out, Jorge Lorenzo took the hole shot on the Ducati and soon led a front group including Marquez, teammate Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa. On Lap 2 it looked as if Jorge was getting away, reminiscent of 2010, 2012, etc. But, unlike those halcyon days, he was unable to disappear, instead leading a tight group of six. By Lap 5 Pedrosa had faded slightly, his place taken by Tech 3 rookie Johann Zarco. It should be noted that Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Zarco went out on soft rear tires, while the factory Hondas and Yamahas chose the harder compounds.

Early in the race we saw Dovi and Lorenzo double-teaming Marquez, forcing him into a two-front war. This lasted until Lap 12, which saw bikes 99-93-04 become 93-04-99. The same type of thing occurred one lap later, when 46-5-26 quickly became 26-46-5. On Lap 14, Rossi ran hot into Turn 1 and re-entered in seventh position, where he finished. No bells ringing in Tavullia tonight.

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The battle came down to this.

Then There Were Two

Pedrosa broke Lorenzo on Lap 20 and began chasing Marquez and Dovizioso, to no avail. By lap 25 Pedrosa had had it, leaving 04 and 93 to slug it out to the finish, and slug it out they did. Although the race analysis will show Dovi having led all of the last four laps, the splits between him and Marquez were illustrative:

Lap 25 .084

Lap 26 .159

Lap 27 .094

Lap 28 .176, including close encounters at virtually every turn on the track, as Marquez threw caution to the wind in his effort to win for the first time in Austria. After the race, Marquez laughed about the result, seeming serenely confident he will get a few wins here in the next decade. For Dovizioso, at age 31, today’s win had to be as sweet as any in his career.

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Concern in Yamaha Land

A track layout that is friendly to both the Ducati and the Yamaha produced a podium of two Hondas and a Duc. To say that Round 11 was a disappointment to the Yamaha riders—Folger retired on Lap 4—is a bit of an understatement. Vinales (-24) and Rossi (-33) sit third and fourth in the standings. Vinales is not yet the dominant force he is expected to become. As for Rossi, with one win (Assen 2017) now in his last 22 starts, his last pole in Motegi last year, and his last title in 2009, we may be finally witnessing the inexorable march of time. With Lorenzo holding up well enough to finish fourth, the Yamaha delegation could manage no better than Zarco in fifth and Vinales, looking mortal yet again, sixth.

One more lesson learned here. Honda is getting close to fixing the acceleration issues that have dogged them for much of the last three seasons. Marquez was losing ground to Dovizioso on corner exit consistently today, but not like he did last year fighting mostly with the Yamahas. Even with today’s loss, Marquez extended his championship lead and has put some daylight between himself and Vinales, Rossi and Pedrosa. Dovizioso, a dark horse entering the season, sits dangerously in second, 16 points back of Marquez.

Domino Theory

Sam Lowes is officially out at Aprilia for 2018, being replaced by Scott Redding and looking for a ride, any ride, for next year. Redding had been pushed out of the Pramac garage by the signing of Jack Miller, who had been ejaculated from the Marc VDS Honda garage by Franco Morbidelli, whose promotion from the Marc VDS Estrella Galicia Moto2 team allowed Joan Mir a place to move up from the Leopard Racing Moto3 team, joining Alex Marquez. Leopard Moto3 struck back quickly, signing Enea Bastianini from Estrella Galicia’s Moto3 team to replace Mir.

Cosmic symmetry would be achieved if Marc VDS were to sign Lowes to a Moto3 contract for 2018. But Sam will be a hot ticket in Moto2 next year. Instead, they have undoubtedly signed some unbelievably fast 14-year old Spanish kid from the CEV cadre to replace Bastianini. In the US, colleges sign high school sophomores to play hoops or football, big money in their futures. In Europe, it’s teenaged soccer players and motorcycle racers.

Final thought—Joan Mir is an Alien-in-Waiting, thrashing the field in Moto3. He will be 20 years old in September. He is a Honda guy and will be riding for one of the big money teams in Moto2 next year, albeit with a 750cc Triumph engine. You heard it here first—he will join the Repsol Honda team and Marc Marquez in 2019 and will receive his Alien Club membership card in 2020.

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Two Weeks to Silverstone

While the stillborn Ebww Vale project in Wales turns to dust on the drawing board, Silverstone once again hosts the British Grand Prix on the 27th. This has historically been a Yamaha-friendly venue. Last year Maverick Vinales enjoyed his first premier class win here on the Suzuki, and must be considered a favorite for Round 12. The season is almost two-thirds complete, and Marc Marquez seems chillaxed battling four other riders and winning. He appears much as he did in 2014—calm, having fun, downplaying his unworldly abilities. He appears happy even on days like today when he loses. By an eyelash.

Marc Marquez handles himself like a champion, like he’s been there before, like he’ll be there again before too long. Congratulations to Andrea Dovizioso for winning today’s battle. My money is on Marquez to win the war.

  • Starmag

    Wow. This was a good one. Kudos to Desmo Dovi on a well earned victory by holding off the sliding Miraculous Marc. Great dueling. Loved the wave Dovi gave back to MM as he pulled away from him at the last turn before the checkers. Points in the series are still close and interesting. Let’s hope it goes down to the wire at Valencia.

    Great write-up and research Bruce.

    • spiff

      Desmo Dovi. I like it.

      • Starmag

        I’d love to claim credit for it, but it’s apparently his nickname for himself. I saw it this week painted on the back of his helmet. MM must have also had a good view of it this week. : >)

  • Old MOron

    Ha ha, it would be hilarious to see Lowes close the loop in Moto 3 next year. I think you’re right about his likely landing in Moto 2. Maybe he can give the younger Marquez a run for the title.

    Today’s race was fun to watch. It was a pleasure to watch Marc try anything and everything to beat Dovi. Credit to Dovi for keeping his cool and bringing home the checkers.

    Funny thing about the factory Yamahas. Each rider made a mistake and then disappeared from the contest. My guess is that their front tires went off. That would explain why they ran wide on corner entry, then couldn’t get back into the chase for the win.

    But maybe the effort of the day goes to Luti in Moto 2. He tried everything to get past Alex Marquez. Just couldn’t make any of his numerous passes stick.

    I’m sad to have to wait two weeks for the next race. Today’s action was great.

    • Gruf Rude

      Both Rossi and Vinales (and everyone in the top seven or so) mentioned rear tire going off, making the bike harder to control and killing drive; none of them complained about the front tire. The Yamahas seemed to burn the rear tire sooner than everyone else and Rossi mentioned it has been a continuing problem, particularly when the track temps go up. Dovi is some sort of magician – his soft rear tire was TRASHED in parc ferme – the center looked like cord was showing.

    • Ozzy Mick

      Agree with your comments re Dovi and 93 battling it out. I couldn’t help holding my breath, wondering if Marquez was risking crashing out of 2nd posi with his win it or bin it approach. I’m glad he didn’t, and l enjoyed the close racing.

      • Old MOron

        You know, Marc’s win-or-bin approach is curious. He had a 14-point lead coming into the race. Popular wisdom says he had the most to lose and should have ridden conservatively. After the race at Brno, everyone fawned about what great strategist he and his team are, so I find it difficult to believe he didn’t have a strategy for this race.

        It would seem that his strategy should have been, “Take the 20 points and increase your lead in the championship.” Instead (and lucky for us) he threw caution to the wind and went for broke. Is it the heat of battle that makes him live dangerously? Is he just that comfortable riding on the edge? Was he being cynical: “If I crash out, I take my main rival with me, so who cares?”

        Of course I don’t know what goes on in his garage, but here from my armchair, it looks to me like he got lucky in Brno. He chose the wrong tire, but it worked for him when the track dried more quickly that expected. If it had been a master stroke of strategy, as some people want to spin it, then it just doesn’t seem possible that they could’ve had such good strategy one week, and such poor strategy (or no strategy) the next week.

        • Gruf Rude

          I think Brno was just as MM described it – a mistake on the soft tire that led to an early pit to the smart dry set-up and scary laps on a damp track that worked out well because he kept it on its wheels.
          As to this race, MM thinks the extra points are going to be really important as the season closes. He would have put ten points on Dovi (instead of losing 5) if he beat him. Having watched him make incredible passes all through Moto2, I don’t think it was ‘win or bin’ and, in fact, he didn’t crash himself or Dovi. I think he thought Dovi was going to block him and instead, Dovi out-smarted him and went for acceleration to the line.

          • Old MOron

            You’re reasoning is sound. There’s just one thing that makes me uncomfortable. If he did expect Dovi to block him, then he was willing to (or perhaps even planned to) ram Dovi. Mike Webb has always said that a rider is entitled to go for the win on the last lap, but I think that is provided that there is an opening to begin with. I don’t believe Webb intends to allow people to create their own openings by ramming competitors off the track.

          • Gruf Rude

            I watched him in Moto2 and his style was to make hard but clean passes; I think he planned to cut under a block (since he’d been blocked at the two preceding left-handers) and make Dovi stand up, not ram. Dovi just stayed wide and went faster rather than get defensive.

          • Old MOron

            I’m not saying anything about Marc’s Moto2 history. But if you think that in this case, “He planned to cut under a block,” watch it again.

            Marquez goes out to the very edge of the track. No way he was planning to cut under anything. Had Dovi taken a defensive line, he would’ve been punted.

            https://youtu.be/ld_qxPGXvp4

          • spiff

            I think it was just the heat of the moment, and Marquez was throwing everything at the wall hoping something stuck.

            As far as Brno, everyone including the “also rans” knew that tire would fall off after lap one, and his second bike was set up for the dry from the start. Folger on the other hand was doing a rain dance.

          • I agree with spiff. Marquez is growing up to be a tactician, but at the moment (and maybe forever) he’s still a kid with a racer’s heart. Given the fire of competition and an outside chance, he’ll try to win it every time. You gotta respect that because as soon as these things become more about championship points – and less about a balls-to-the-wall race to the finish line – we’ve lost something.

          • Barry_Allen

            First time I saw it I was sure Pedrosa had just won the race.

  • Old MOron

    PS: Hey Brucey, in another thread you said something like, “If Lorenzo can’t win in Austria, this experiment is over.”

    Well, what do you think? He did look good – until he didn’t.

    • On the red bike he’s just another rider. Not convinced he will get this figured out fully by the end of next season. Back to Yamaha in 2019 to go up against Marquez and Mir?

      • Old MOron

        So Lorenzo says he couldn’t keep up the pace because he had to switch his bike to a fuel-conserving engine map. On the one hand it sounds plausible. On the other hand, Dovi’s bike was fast until the end.

        Anyway, if he does want to ride for Yamaha in 2019, he’s going to have to compete with Vinnie and Frenchie for the opportunity.

        Speaking of competing for factory rides, Honda is coming into an embarrassment of riches. Marc Marquez is going to run strongly for a good while. They’ll also have Morbidelli and Mir… and Alex Marquez, too. I suppose other factories could try to steal them away, but all of the above have strong ties to Honda.

        Changing gears, what about your boy, Crutchlow? He had a terrible race. Something about being unable to make any of the front tires work for him.

        • spiff

          I believe Lorenzo was using extr fuel. He hasn’t figured out how to conserve on the Ducati.

          Crutchlow was on a hard front.

          • Old MOron

            I don’t know. He’s supposed to be such a smooth rider. That’s good for conserving fuel. Plus, he’s not a big guy, like Petrux for example. Something doesn’t make sense.

            Yes, Crutch was on the hard front. Couldn’t make it work.

          • spiff

            Rough day when you know you have the wrong tire, but it is the best for you.

          • Mahatma

            Can’t they just put in more fuel at start,or is it limited like F1?¨

          • spiff

            Don’t know for sure, but I think they are limited.

          • BDan75

            It’s limited. 22 liters this year, I believe.

        • BDan75

          A couple of (probably incorrect) ideas. First, he may have burned too much running out front at the start of the race. Not only because he had to use more power, but perhaps because he was hauling max fuel load (roughly 36 pounds of gas) at that point. Dunno how much difference that actually makes, but the margins in this sport are incredibly tight.

          Or…maybe possible he made a mistake and didn’t switch to an interim lean setting when he should have, and thus had to go into more of a “limp home” setting. Seems like I remember another rider–maybe Bradley Smith–cop to that error a couple years back.

          Oh, other thing that crossed my mind: Think they said the aero inside the new Duc fairing was adjustable for more/less downforce. If Lorenzo is using more downforce than Dovi, that would tend to increase fuel consumption.

          Whatever it is, Lorenzo now reminds me of the Ducatis of 3-4 years ago, when they still had the concessions and were running soft tires all the time. They’d look like they were gonna run away with it, then….nothing.

      • BDan75

        If I were him, and it didn’t work out with the Duc, I’d just retire. With 65 wins and 5 championships (across all classes), the guy’s got nothing to prove, and he’s rich as Croesus. If he still wants to ride, I’m guessing he could get a Stoner-style executive test rider slot someplace. Or failing that, he’s probably got one or two retired M1s sitting in his garage, and he can certainly afford to hire a couple of techs–and probably build his own track, for that matter. He never seemed to enjoy dicing with the other riders anyway.

        Every year you stay out there, you risk something bad happening. It’s not as big a risk as it used to be…but Salom, Simoncelli, Tomizawa. Or Rainey. And if you’re not fighting for podiums any more…

        But that’s just me. Lorenzo probably has more competitive drive in his little finger than I do my whole body.

        • All good points, my friend. But how many riders can you name who just walked away young and rich? Compare that to the number who hung around too long and simply became field nags, i.e., Colin Edwards, Loris Capirossi, (Valentino Rossi???).

          • Barry_Allen

            The way Lorenzo’s been hanging out at the back of the pack most of the year, I thought he was practicing to retire to a job as safety car driver.

            Colin Edwards now nags from the sidelines with a microphone for BTSport. He also does preview laps on a BMW S1000RR alongside Neil Hodgson. A couple of 43 year old retirees I’d trade places with in a heartbeat.

    • spiff

      Do you think the new front fairing is putting more weight, better balance, on the front?

      • Old MOron

        Lorenzo: “My feeling with the new fairing continues to be very good, because it gives me more confidence in the front. It depends on riding style for each rider, but it’s definitely a help to me.”

        Dovi: “Overall the feeling is good, we confirmed that the new fairing works quite well on this track.”

    • Seems like on the Yamaha he had completely learned how to conserve tires, fuel, and when and how hard to brake entering turns. On the Duc, I don’t think he can do any of this. Yet. Whether he remains around long enough to find out I don’t know.

  • JMDGT

    2nd. is high enough.

    • Old MOron

      I hope, for the sake of the championship spectacle, you’re wrong.

      • JMDGT

        We’ll know more after the next race.

  • spiff

    Bruce, no mention of KTM? Yeah, it is their home track, and Kallio probably has a bazillion laps here, but good showing. They have limited DNFs, and don’t seem to be taking many steps backwards.

    It is my understanding that Dorna wants every manufacturer to have two factory bikes, and two satellite bikes. We could have a 24 bike field with no bikes more then a year old in 2019 or 2020 at the latest. There are a lot of up and coming riders, and the potential of good machinery. This is a good series.

    • Old MOron

      Apparently Kallio does not have a bazillion (recent) laps at this track. Here’s a quote from another (inferior but still informative) website: “The 19.766s margin between Kallio and victory was the smallest yet, despite Kallio not testing at the Red Bull Ring since last July and it being only his third GP since 2015.”

      I don’t know if “last July” means just a month ago, or July 2016. I would seem like the latter, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth mentioning.

      • spiff

        Good find.

    • Barry_Allen

      With 8 Ducs and 6 Hondas (LCR is expected to hire a second rider now that Crutchlow will be getting his paychecks straight from HRC), it’ll take quite a shuffle to get to the 6 manufacturer x 4 bikes each scenario Dorna dreams of. I can’t envision a KTM satellite at this point and the thought of an Aprilia satellite just made me laugh so hard I almost choked on my Wheatina.

      • spiff

        Your so pessimistic man. Honda has decided with LCR is all. Everyone else is choosing who gets what. Be patient. 🙂

  • Born to Ride

    Welp, its official. J-Lo is worthless on the Ducati.

    • spiff

      Unfortunately still head of the Yamahaulers.

      • Born to Ride

        On a track specifically added to give Ducati riders points. They might as well just run a race at Talledega. My point was if he can’t win here, he can’t win anywhere.

        • spiff

          Fair enough, I am just a bitter Yamaha fan.

    • Old MOron

      If it had been a sprint race, he would’ve done great 🙂
      But I guess in that case the others would’ve been sprinting, too.
      Okay, never mind.

  • spiff

    Dovi can take one thing to the grave. He beat Marquez. Conditions were right, no odd variables. Even the track position, being in second he put enough pressure on that Marquez went in hot at turn 1 (?). Just the two of them, and there is little doubt the Marquez gave it all he had.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    KTM in top 10 again, right behind the Ducatis, Hondas and Yamahas.

    • Yeah, and once again I ran out of room blathering on about practice. KTM is on the move, although their Moto2 program seems to be suffering.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        No worries. I’ll keep you straight 🙂 I think they don’t like the Honda engine and are impatiently waiting for the Triumph. Their heart is not in it.

  • tristan50

    Very brave and fantastic ride by Dovi. Marcs skill and mastery was displayed many times today as he defied the laws of physics sliding that wild machine around. The lean angles were crazy. What a race!

  • schizuki

    Epic race. Three wide at one point.

    That Ducati fairing reminds me of the thumbhole “sporter” stocks to work around assault-weapon bans. Tricksey.

    • Barry_Allen

      It’s been dubbed the “Hamster Cheeks” on BTSport
      http://www.imagebam.com/image/34eb64577787243

      Bruce, the Triumph engines don’t come in until 2019. Moto2 Still has another year of Honda.

      “…Jack Miller, who had been ejaculated from the Marc VDS Honda garage by Franco Morbidelli…”
      OUCH!! That must have hurt. Probably Morbidelli more than Miller.

      • Nothing I hate more than getting my facts wrong. I don’t mind it when my punchlines fall flat–happens all the time. Need to lay off the hooch.

      • spiff

        Barry, are you Bruce’s brother?

        • Barry_Allen

          Not to my knowledge. We just both seem to like motorcycle racing and kibitzing.

          • spiff

            Not an alter ego? It’s okay to tell me, I’d understand. No one believes that my best friend is a tiger.

  • Vrooom

    That was a hell of a finish. I was surprised the Yamahas were as slow as they were. Zarco was impressive though, getting more out of the bike than Vinales or Rossi. Dovi cemented his alien card in granite.

  • elgar

    Great summary Bruce, thanks. Finally, a super spectacular and very close battle for the win! (complete opposite to last week’s race…). Great race and Forza Dovi!

  • Shlomi

    I think that Marc last move on Dovi was dangerous and equivalent to Ianone taking himself and Dovi couple of years back. The key difference this time was Dovi, he pretty much let Marc make his move, knowing there is no way Marc can get a good drive from his line. Way to go Dovi!

    • spiff

      The other difference is Marquez. You know, the guy who picks up low sides with his elbow.

      • Next: Chin slider.

      • Shlomi

        Nope, if Dovi closes the door, they both crash. Dovi has lots of experience with maniac joe / Pedrosa taking him out to know its better to finish then not finish.

        • spiff

          Of course Dovi has to know where Marquez is, and take the appropriate line. That is what a racer does. My comment is towards the aggressor in this situation. How many guys you know that can throw it in there like that and not have the results be bad for him or the leader no matter how the leader reacts.

    • Marquez admitted as much in the post-race presser. And, at that moment, it was entirely expected. This may be Dovi’s year, despite his insistence that the bike in its present form is not good enough to win a title.

  • Komil Hitriy

    From Branchfire: Stories by some of today’s most exciting young writers delivered straight to your iPhone or iPod Touch.http://medkmv.ru/arcade-action/rk2706-pdf.php You can swipe circles, leaves, rings or even pumpkin heads for that extra bit of season fun.

    • Old MOron

      Looks like our discussion is big enough to trigger a blip on SPAM radar.
      Congratulations, Bruce!

      • Awesome. Hope John Burns is eating his heart out. 🙂

  • this is going to be a really exciting competition from now on!

  • Eduardo González

    Any one knows how the odds are stacked for Dovi? I never ever bet on anything, yet, just for the fun of it I’ll be betting on him to win the championship. He really has become a lot more aggresive on the bike, and yesterday, the duel of him and M. Marquez, was awesome. I’m rooting for Dovi this year, especially if he beats Lorenzo, for some reason I don’t like him.

  • Kos

    What a great race! And damn fine write up, Bruce.

    Go Dovi. Spoil it for Marquez!

    Sad for Rossi. I had (likely irrational) hopes for one more title this year.