For the first time since 1949 when MotoGP invented itself, eight different riders have won a premier class race in a single season. Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa, mired in the worst slump of his career, winless in 2016, busted out today on the shores of the sun-drenched Adriatic with a convincing win over Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. For series leader Marc Marquez, another exercise in damage limitation worked well enough to keep his margin at 43 points with five rounds to go.
The WCMS at Misano is one of those “technical” tracks where the bikes don’t peg the throttle in 6th very much. Top speeds are “low.” On Friday the Ducatis had trouble breaking the top six. It’s a great track with something for every taste and budget but does not play well to the Ducati’s strengths. On Friday, it looked like it might be prime hunting grounds for Maverick Vinales, who gets around those tight areas with ease on his GSX-RR, if it weren’t too hot at race time. (BTW they’re going to love Vinales in Yamahaland.)
Lorenzo looked strong in FP1. Rossi took FP1 because he felt like it – home race and all – and Marquez was keeping his powder dry. Pol Espargaro had a great Friday. Iannone took himself out of Round 13 at least with a formidable high-side in FP1 and a resulting cracked vertebra, his place on the factory-issue bike being taken by the very capable Michele Pirro. There was a Pedrosa sighting during FP2. By Q2 time it was hot but not insanely, Sepang-style hot. During the Sunday morning warm-up, it was Marquez, Rossi, Pirro and Dovizioso, team Ducati having apparently fixed a few things overnight:
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Marquez, Pirro and Dovizioso made up the second row, with Crashlow qualifying 7th and Pedrosa 8th.
My notes make no mention of Pedrosa until Lap 5 when he went through on Maverick Vinales’ Suzuki into 5th place. The factory Yamahas dominated early, with Lorenzo taking the holeshot into the early lead, only to give it up to Rossi on Lap 2. Misano, a sea of yellow, is the only circuit on the calendar that offers a home court advantage to a rider – Rossi – which is palpable and can affect the outcome of the race. For 20 laps today it appeared the homeboy would win. But Pedrosa, having qualified 8th, his struggle continuing, took our advice today, said “to hell with it,” put his head down, and won by 2.8 seconds over a disappointed Rossi, with Lorenzo ending the day in third, equally disgusted at having been unable to get away early.
Pedrosa, looking like the Alien of old, went through on teammate Marc Marquez in Turn 14 of Lap 14, leaving two Yamahas and half a race between him and the win. He tracked down Lorenzo in Turn 14 of Lap 17. Finally, he took down Rossi in Turn 4 of Lap 22, not once showing the Italian any daylight between there and the flag. The podium photo could have been straight out of 2009 when the same three Aliens dominated the sport. Back in the dark CRT days, could anyone foresee the day when eight different riders would claim a win in a single season? In eight consecutive races? Andrea Dovizioso and Scott Redding need to step up.
Dani Pedrosa accomplished his entire To Do list today: Win the race. Beat Marquez. And keep Lorenzo and Rossi from gaining ground on his teammate. Check, check and check.
When we divide the season into two halves, we discover the first half winners:
First five rounds of the second half:
Despite his eighth place finish today, which was lowered to ninth over a rules infraction, Crutchlow could win the second half of the season. He’s done well during the first half of the second half. Which, in turn, suggests he could win an entire season, simply by winning both halves. Of both halves. Those of you who have been bugging me about under-tranching him must acknowledge that he left Assen in 14th place. We know at least some of it wasn’t his fault – mechanicals. But now having been on a hot streak, suddenly he’s an Alien? No.
Today, with five rounds left, Cal Crutchlow sits in 8th place, 52 points outside the top four, and 130 behind Marquez. It’s in Honda’s interest to give him the best equipment they’ve got, factory team or not. He has recovered from his disastrous start to the season. He is legitimately fast and skilled. He is battling Marquez and was, until today, dusting Pedrosa. He hasn’t crashed since Assen; some would say he’s overdue. We don’t call him Crashlow for nothing. So why are we spending so much time talking about him?
If he wins the second half he’s an Alien. And I’m a monkey’s uncle. Dude is 30 going on 31. At a minimum, he needs to start acting like he’s been here before. He can afford to be gracious after good performances. Save funny for the Tuesday interviews. Now, if both of you Brits reading this would kindly step off my neck…
Brad Binder won the Moto3 race, applying a virtual death grip on the 2016 title. I think some people are unexcited by this prospect due to a lingering negative hangover around historic South African racial practices, combined with the sheer size of his lead. Crushing your opponents is frowned upon in all three MotoGP divisions as it takes the edge off the competition. No question the fast South African is moving on up, but I suspect he has fewer fans in his fan club than, say, Valentino Rossi.
Rossi’s VR46 Racing seems to have identified and developed an entire posse of fast young Italian riders who are punching above their weight in Moto2 and Moto3. The sport seems to be becoming less Spanish and more Italian. For American fans, this change can be characterized as trivia. For Italian fans, it’s another compelling reason to love #46, as he and his team appear to be elevating the profile of motorcycle racing across the country. Lorenzo Baldassarri’s first grand prix win today in Moto2 supports this idea.
With five rounds left – Aragon, the Pacific swing and Valencia – Marquez leads the series by 43 over Rossi and 61 over Lorenzo. Pedrosa seized 4th place back from Vinales today. Dovizioso leads Iannone by three points, while Crutchlow leads Pol Espargaro by four. Hector Barbera rounds out the top ten. Marquez increases his working margin today while struggling with grip and corner acceleration. It’s hard to see how he can avoid capturing the 2016 title. On, however, to the dusty plains of Aragon, the rabbit warren at Motegi, the cold, cutting winds of Phillip Island, the brain-melting heat of Sepang and, one hopes, the tension of the final race of the year in November at Valencia. We hope there is a compelling reason to race at Round 18. Whether there is or isn’t likely depends mostly upon Marquez. And his suddenly tough little wingman.