Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso put himself in contention for the 2017 MotoGP world title with a measured win in difficult conditions at yesterday’s Catalan Grand Prix.
The Italian, fresh from his win at the Italian Grand Prix seven days earlier, headed home the Repsol Hondas of world champion Marc Marquez and team-mate Dani Pedrosa in a race characterised by high rates of tyre wear and low grip levels caused by extreme temperatures and the poor condition of the Montmelo circuit’s aged tarmac.
With crashes galore in qualifying, most had expected the race to be one of attrition. Thankfully that was to prove incorrect, with only Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci falling off in the race, but it was clear that some bikes were affected more than other by the conditions – while all the riders used their skills and experience to nurse the Michelin tyres in a bid to make them last the 25 lap race distance.
Qualifying had seen the Ducatis and Hondas looking strongest, with Pedrosa taking the pole from Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo. From the lights, Lorenzo led the way from Marquez, who had crashed five times during practice, but the pace was slow as the riders looked to preserve their rubber.
Dovizioso, who had started down in seventh, worked his way diligently through the pack. He took over the lead from Pedrosa on lap 17 and pulled away to win by over three and a half seconds from Marquez and Pedrosa. Having had a mid-race slump, Lorenzo made a late charge to secure fourth, ahead of the Tech3 Yamahas of Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger.
Indeed, of the top teams it was the Yamahas who struggled the most in Barcelona. Factory riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales complained of a lack of feel all weekend and qualified way down – Vinales in ninth and Rossi in 13th. In the race neither came close to the Tech3 bikes, which run an older specification chassis. Rossi finished in eighth, 20 seconds down on the winner, with championship leader Vinales a further two places back. Suzuki too were all at sea in the conditions, with both Andrea Iannone and Sylvain Guintoli, deputising for the injured Alex Rins for one last time, finishing out of the points.
The results see Dovizioso close to within seven points of Vinales at the top of the table and understandably he was delighted after the race. He said: “I’m so happy but also a bit surprised by this win! I had a great feeling before the start because I knew that we could be very competitive, not because we were the fastest out there on the track, but because yesterday we worked well to prepare for the race. It was a strategic race more than anything else and we were good at interpreting the limits of the track and the tyres. The track was very difficult and all the riders had problems with grip, which dropped off a lot and so we concentrated on administering tyre consumption and on consistency, and this decision paid off. In the race I was able to be very fast without pushing hard when I found myself behind Pedrosa and this helped me a lot in the last 10 laps, when I passed him and then pulled out a small gap over the two Hondas. I can truly say that today we were on really great form!”
It was not a great weekend for the British riders in Barcelona. Cal Crutchlow was the best of the Brits, in 11th, with Scott Redding in 13th.
Sam Lowes’ tough debut season in the premier class continued. He was the last finisher, in 19th, and was vocally critical of his Aprilia team prior to the race. The former British and world supersport champion publically slated the Italian team for their poor communication and lack of respect towards him in his rookie season. KTM’s Bradley Smith was forced to miss the race with a finger injury sustained in qualifying but should be fit for the next round, which takes place at Assen, in the Netherlands, in two weeks’ time.