Marc Marquez pulled out a 16 point advantage in the MotoGP world standings with a majestic win in front of his home crowd at Aragon, while Valentino Rossi put in a stunning performance to finish fifth just 24 days after suffering a double leg break in a training accident.
In a weekend full of twists and turns it was Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo who led the opening laps, heroically followed by Rossi on the Yamaha and championship leaders Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso.
Marquez took the lead on lap 16 of 23, around the same time that Rossi started to succumb to rear tyre wear and the inevitable pain from his injuries. With Marquez in the lead, much of the interest turned to the late charges from fellow Spaniards Dani Pedrosa and Maverick Vinales.
Pole sitter Vinales had struggled to find a rear tyre compound to suit his Yamaha over race distance and eventually settled for a harder compound that proved to lack pace in the opening laps. The Yamaha man led the second group in the opening laps, holding up a train of seven riders. Pedrosa finally broke clear on lap 13 and set about the leading group. The former 125 and 250cc world champ was the fastest man on track as he scythed through the pack. Eventually the 31-year-old made it through to second, but didn’t have enough time to catch his Repsol Honda team-mate, despite being less than a second back at the flag. Lorenzo held on third, with Vinales catching and passing Rossi late on. Lorenzo’s team-mate Dovizioso was the big loser though, finishing seventh to lose his joint lead in the title race.
“I’m very, very happy with this victory because it was a tough race,” said Marquez. “Yesterday I wasn’t feeling totally comfortable with the bike, and today I was struggling again except in the warm-up; I don’t really know why. Anyway, racing at one of my favourite tracks, close to my home and in front of my fans, gave me extra motivation. I pushed hard and in some corners I just clicked the off-button in my head, even if I crashed twice yesterday. I saw that Viñales and Dovi were struggling a bit and knew it was the moment to push, so I did. There were a few scary moments, once when I was trying to overtake Valentino; he was tighter in that corner than I was expecting, and to avoid a clash I released the brakes, only to realize that Lorenzo was right there! So I went off the track, and at that moment I cooled down a bit, even if I continued to try and close the gap. Once I passed Lorenzo, I had to keep going as I saw that Dani was coming very fast. Anyway, that’s the Marquez style! Of course it’s important to think of the championship, but the situation now requires that we give it everything. So we’ll try to continue with the same motivation and mentality race by race, giving our 100 per cent.”
“Maybe if I could have overtaken Maverick a little bit earlier I would have had a better chance to fight for the win but I’m still happy with my race today,” said a rueful Pedrosa. “The goal was try and fight for the podium or the win, and we achieved that. So yes, I have some small regrets, but at the same time I couldn’t have done any better in the beginning as I was on the medium rear like Maverick and wasn’t able to pass him for a while. I also had to manage the tyre wear in order to be fast at the end, which I was. I wasn’t sure why we suddenly had some gap to recover to the front, as the others had more or less the same pace. Anyway, when I finally passed him, the gap was there, so I started pushing hard, made some good passes and a good recovery, and had a very strong race. I put a lot of passion into it, and this is good for me and the team.”
The championship now takes a short break before heading to Asia and Australia for the ‘fly-away’ races, giving Rossi some time to regain fitness. “I’m quite proud, because a week ago I didn’t know if I would be able to race,” said the Italian icon, for whom Dutchman Michael van der Mark was lined up as a replacement. “Achieving a start from the first row yesterday was already great, I was very happy. I knew I had to suffer in the second half of the race. I had some pain and we also suffered from the degradation of the tyre. The work continues after this race. The calendar works out well for me, I have two full weeks to train and improve my leg’s condition. After this we have Motegi, which is going to be very important, but we also have three races in a row. This will be very difficult for my leg, so I want to try to arrive in Motegi – maybe not at 100% – but quite fit.” The Japanese Grand Prix takes place at Motegi on the weekend of 13-15 October.