A combination of a perfectly timed pitstop and flawless riding saw world champion Marc Marquez extend his title lead to 14 points with a victory at the Czech Grand Prix in Brno.
The race started in damp conditions but with no rain falling it was inevitable that the riders would be required to start on bikes with wet weather tyres and set-up, but with a switch to a ‘dry’ bike coming sooner rather than later.
From the lights it was Ducati rider Jorge Lorenzo, not known for his wet weather riding prowess, who led the way, while Marquez dived into the pits for his slick-shod bike on the second lap. The Repsol Honda rider switched bikes earlier than his rivals as he was not happy with the grip from the soft rear tyre he had chosen but ultimately it was to prove a masterstroke. While Valentino Rossi and Johann Zarco took over the running at the front, Marquez was slicing almost 10 seconds a lap from the leaders. Rossi would complete a total of five laps on his wet weather bike, by which time he had already been overtaken by Marquez.
Rossi, who arrived in Brno fourth in the standings but just 10 points behind Marquez, rejoined in 14th and was forced to battle through the pack. He passed last year’s Brno winner, Brit Cal Crutchlow, on the last lap to take fourth place but just missed out on a rostrum position.
Such was Marquez’ pace, he finished over 12 seconds ahead of team-mate Dani Pedrosa, with Maverick Vinales making it an all Spanish podium, a full 18 seconds back in third. Vinales retains second in the title race, with Rossi in fourth. The fourth title contender, Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, was another late stopper, coming in at the same time as fellow Italian Rossi, and ended the day a disappointing sixth. He retains his third place in the standings but sees his deficit stretched from six to 21 points.
Overall, it was a disappointing day for Ducati. Lorenzo set the early pace, running an innovative new fairing on his Desmosedici, but lost over 15 seconds in the pits as his team were not ready for his arrival. He ended the race 15th overall.
Crutchlow aside, it was also a tough day for the British riders. Scott Redding qualified last but made a good start and run as high as third after the pitstops, only for a broken exhaust to slow him down and eventually see him finish out of the points, in 16th. Sam Lowes was 18th on the Aprilia, while Bradley Smith retired from out of the points late in the race.
Speaking after the race, winner Marquez said: “This was a very special Sunday because everyone was racing for Angel Nieto (the Spanish 13 time world champion who had died earlier in the week), but it was also a very challenging race. On the grid, I took the risk to use the soft rear tyre because I thought it would give me extra grip for five laps before pitting to change bikes, but it didn’t go like that. I soon started to struggle a lot and lost many positions. When I saw that, I decided to immediately get in and take the risk of the slicks. When I re-joined the race, honestly it was still too damp in some parts and I nearly crashed during the first lap out. When you go out for the flag-to-flag, it’s so difficult to get the feeling with the bike again, but I tried to quickly understand the grip. Honestly, today I took some risks but it was one of those days when you just have to do it. After pulling a great gap, I just tried to manage, to ride well, and to finish the race. I’m really very happy with the result. It’s a track I normally struggle at, one I worry about every year, and getting 25 points was very important. Thanks to the team for another great job! We did the correct strategy during the summer break, coming here to test, and we arrived here prepared. We’re improving step by step. The championship is still very, very tight; we must be able to be fast in every condition.”
The championship moves straight to the Red Bull Ring for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.