On an idyllic Sunday afternoon in the British countryside, Ducati veteran Andrea Dovizioso, in the midst of a dream season, won the British Grand Prix, pimping the factory Yamaha team at the flag. Disaster struck the Repsol Honda team on Lap 14 when Marc Marquez, fast and fighting for the lead, saw his engine, and series lead, go up in smoke. The championship heads to Misano in two weeks tighter than tree bark.

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The championship took a dramatic turn when Marc Marquez’s engine blew while fighting for the lead at Silverstone.

Practice and Qualifying

Two of the three Brits on the grid, Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding, passed directly into Q2, both on the strength of their times in FP2. Familiar names who failed to do so included the usual suspects, as well as Danilo Petrucci, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins (again missing out on Q2 by fractions of a second), and Jonas Folger. In addition to Redding, both Espargaro brothers made it through, the KTM team (Pol’s crew) dancing for joy. Folger and Pedrosa went on to make it through Q1, setting up a scintillating Q2.

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After taking the pole at Silverstone last year, Cal Crutchlow qualified once again on the front row for his home race.

The Main Event on Saturday boiled down to Marc Marquez and everyone else. While the young Catalan marvel was busy breaking track records, one on each soft rear tire, the rest of the grid was running at the limit to stay within touch. One by one, Viñales, Crutchlow (who started on pole last year) and finally Valentino Rossi took runs at him, Rossi looking especially strong on his flying lap until encountering what he describes as his “usual” difficulty in the last sector.

With Rossi settling for second, and looking highly dangerous, Crutchlow completed the first row, Viñales, Jorge Lorenzo and Dovizioso making up Row 2. Parenthetically, Rossi’s time would have been the new track record had it not been for the impudent Spaniard sitting on pole. Vale’s main problem on Sunday, along with the rest of the Yamaha contingent, would be conserving his rear tire over 20 long laps on Sunday. Johann Zarco in eighth and Folger in tenth place appeared not to be serious threats during the next day’s race, although the Yamahas dominated FP2, claiming the top three spots therein.

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Marc Marquez took his eighth pole of the season and fourth in a row.

Tech 3 Yamaha rookie Jonas Folger, who had qualified 10th, crashed heavily in Sunday’s warm-up practice and could not start the race. And Pol Espargaro inexplicably crashed his factory KTM on the warm-down lap after the flag, something rarely seen at this level. In between fans were treated to 20 laps of sweaty palms and high drama, at the only track on the planet sufficiently British to feature a corner named Maggots.

In Honda Weather, Ducati Rules

With air temps in the upper 70s and the track temperature over 100, it felt more like Spain than England, conditions the Hondas love and everyone else loathes. Valentino Rossi took the hole shot from the middle of the front row and had things his own way almost all day, the key word being “almost.” Almost, today, meant until Lap 18, when Dovizioso, who had been steadily climbing the time sheets after finishing Lap 1 in sixth place (from whence he started) went through cleanly and for keeps. Dovi had climbed into second place after dueling with and disposing of Lorenzo (Lap 2), Crutchlow (Lap 3), Marquez (Lap 6) and Viñales on Lap 12. Sandwiched between Rossi and Viñales at that point, Dovi appeared unruffled, not pushing overly hard. My expectation was that he would eventually go the way of all PB&Js, swallowed up by the Boys in Blue.

Not today.

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Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales posed a tough obstacle for Andrea Dovizioso but the Ducati rider was able to pull through for the win.

By Lap 14, Dovizioso was dogging Rossi, dragging Marquez along for the ride, everyone conserving tires and gas as best they could. Viñales and Crutchlow appeared to be struggling to keep up, the Spaniard the only one of the five sporting a soft rear tire, the other four on hard rears, as it were. Suddenly, out of the proverbial clear blue sky, a meaningful puff of white smoke emerged from Marquez’ RC213V (something I don’t recall seeing from a factory Honda in the last 10 years), and his day was over. Dovizioso technically took the lead in the championship at that moment, although there was plenty of race left, plenty of time for disaster to strike someone somewhere.

Not today.

Dovi Stiff-Arms the Yamahas

Once Marquez left the building, the front four consisted of Rossi, humming along unmolested, Dovi, Viñales and Crutchlow. With a third of the race left, Rossi looked to be encountering grip problems, not getting away, and suddenly Dovi appeared to be lining him up. Crutchlow seemed to be gaining on Viñales as the fans, collectively urging him on, awaited the eventual dropoff in the Spaniard’s rear tire. My only note on Lap 16 reads, “CC needs to GO!” Which, unfortunately for him, he never did. Instead, Viñales started showing signs of renewed life. Shortly after Dovizioso went through on Rossi at the Stowe corner (referred to by most of us as Turn 15) on Lap 18, Viñales did the same, consigning Rossi, in his 300th premier class start, to deal with Crutchlow. It was on Lap 17 that Andrea Iannone, wearing out his welcome with Suzuki, lost the front and collected Petrucci on his way out. Petrucci, pedaling hard for a top 10 finish after a gruesome weekend, appeared less than completely amused by the turn of events.

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After the race, Andrea Dovizioso admitted he wasn’t the fastest rider out there but was in the right position at the right moment.

During the last two laps, Rossi took several runs at Viñales, none succeeding, while Viñales, smelling blood and trailing Dovizioso by only 6/10ths of a second at the start of the final lap, fired in his fastest lap of the race on the last lap and came breathtakingly close to overtaking Dovi at the flag, losing by a tenth, with Rossi another half second in arrears. So much for the theory that soft rear Michelins and hot weather do not go together.

The Big Picture

Today’s shocker upset the championship standings at the top, as follows:

35 points continue to stand between Dani Pedrosa, who finished today’s tilt in seventh, and the series leader. But Marquez’ DNF put him nine points behind Dovi, with Viñales snapping at his heels. Rossi and Pedrosa are still in the hunt, just barely, as in trailing by 20 or 30 points with six rounds left. The rest of the field, headed by Johann Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo, need to find other reasons to race besides contending for a championship. Like beating your teammate, or beating a rider (#99, for instance) getting paid boxcars full of euros running sixth for the year. Dovizioso, lucky dog that he is, has the pleasure of all three motivators, and, at age 33, is a legitimate threat for his first premier class title. Earlier in the year he was singing the blues about the Desmosedici GP17 not being good enough to win a title this year. He may have to re-think that; perhaps his meaning was lost in translation.

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With a career high of four wins and the championship lead after two-thirds of the season, Andrea Dovizioso is a serious threat for the 2017 championship.

The Undercards

Taka Nakagami, fresh off the announcement he will be joining the LCR Honda team next season, found enough extra motivation from that to win today’s Moto2 race by a fraction of a second over a reborn Mattia Pasini, who started from pole for the third race in a row after not having a pole position for ten (10) years.

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MotoGP-bound Taka Nakagami (30) took his first win of the season. Franco Morbidelli, who will be joining him in the premier class next season, finished third but still holds a comfortable lead in the Moto2 standings.

Earlier, Aron Canet, another 17-year old Spanish wonder, took the abbreviated Moto3 race in which the top eight finishers were separated by 7/10ths of a second. The race was red-flagged with one lap to go after Bo Bendsneyder and Juanfran Guevara collided, with Guevara stretchered off to a hospital, after losing consciousness. Fortunately, Guevara was soon able to regain consciousness and let everyone know via Instagram that he will be okay:

For most of the day, the Moto3 race had a lead group consisting of over 20 riders, easily some of the best wheel-to-wheel racing anywhere in the world. Next year I think I’ll just cover Moto3 and leave covering the premier class to some other old MOron.

Next Up: Misano

Two weeks from now the flying circus moves to the Adriatic Riviera at Misano, home track to Dovizioso and any other rider with a drop of Italian blood in his veins. All of the non-Italian Ducati riders will be paisans for a long weekend. Expect lots of red in the crowd to go along with the usual tiresome sea of yellow shirts, flags, banners and smoke. The 2017 season is two-thirds over, and nobody I know has a clue who will take the crown in what has become one of the most hotly contested championships in years.

Be there. Aloha.

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After an unfortunate DNF at Silverstone Marc Marquez will look to bounce back at Misano.