Drama unfolded as usual over the duration of the 10th round of the 2017 MotoGP season at the Automotodrom Brno. The weather was to play an incredibly important factor, and brave tactics would be needed to secure the win as four riders headed in within 10 points of the championship lead.
Wet start to the meeting at Automotodrom Brno
After four weeks of a mid-season break, the MotoGP class were welcomed to a sodden track in the Czech Republic; the circuit where British rider Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) secured his first ever MotoGP win in the wet the year previous. By the time the class made their way out on track on day one of the meeting, it was drenched and rain continued to fall.
The aerodynamics saga continues with extraordinary efforts from Ducati
The four weeks of rest and testing left us awaiting new ‘inventions’ as the riders try to win the battle regarding aerodynamics. And trust Ducati to produce something horrific, as Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) was seen leaving his pit garage with a frame like fairing that was designed to encase the banned winglets and to keep the front end down; let’s just say it got mixed reviews.
All factory riders had tested them, but Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) decided against them for race day as did Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). But Lorenzo was seen on several occasions running with the new ‘fairing’ and even opted to use the design during the race.
More level playing field in the wet
The wet conditions always create a more level playing field. Independent team riders are able to showcase their talents and overcome the things that makes the factory riders more elite. It was Hector Barbera (Reale Avintia Racing) on the Desmosedici GP16 that dominated for the majority of the opening Free Practice session before Lorenzo, with his bike that looked like it was wearing a zimmer frame, went top. It’s meant to be Red Bull that gives you wings….
Few close calls on track
Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) ran straight on at turn 10 of the track and ended up falling in the gravel. Later on in the session he had a near-miss at turn 11 of the track. There were no further incidents in the wet conditions as the riders took extra care. They were able to improve however and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) took the top spot towards the end before Lorenzo again took over, but then rookie Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech3) ended up quickest at the end of FP1.
Dry track for Free Practice 2 means first chance to try out dry tyres
When they returned after the break for Free Practice 2, the riders were met with a dry track and the first opportunity to test and confirm settings in such conditions. Available for the riders at the Automotodrom Brno where Michelin Power Slick tyres in sift, medium and hard compounds for both the front and rear.
With there being six left hand corners and eight right, the front tyre was a symmetrical tyre however the rear was of a n asymmetrical design as there was a harder compound on the right hand side of the tyre. Should it rain, the Michelin Power Wet tyres were available in both soft and medium for the front and rear.
Ducatis appearing to be strong in Brno, Dovizioso was quickest
The Ducatis appeared to dominate in the dry in Brno despite the variations of fairings seen between Lorenzo, Petrucci and Dovizioso. The session almost went without incident until British rookie, Sam Lowes (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) came off at turn 10. Current championship leader, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) also made a major save from a crash, something he tends to do every meeting.
Ending day one on top was Dovizioso with his quickest time of 1:56.332. He was just under 0.4 seconds quicker than rookie, Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) in second, Petrucci in third and Zarco in fourth ahead of Barbera who ended up fifth.
Glorious sunshine greets the MotoGP riders in Brno
When they returned for the second day of the meeting, the riders were met with glorious sunshine and had to instead on day two deal with soaring temperatures which left the track feeling greasy due to this instead. It returned out to be a crash fest as understandably they were able to push more, and the track after the heavy rainfall appeared to lack adhesion in parts.
Several incidents during Free Practice 3 leads to session being red-flagged
Within minutes of the ever-important FP3 beginning, Alvaro Bautista (Pull & Bear Aspar Ducati team) ran into the gravel at turn 10 and dropped his bike in the gravel, Marquez then slid off at turn 10 and tumbled with his Honda, and then Crutchlow slid out also, his bike hit the inflatable tyre wall and ended up landing upside down. The chain of incidents resulted in the session being red-flagged because of track conditions.
The air-fence had to be replaced after the impact from Crutchlow’s bike which added to the delay. The track conditions were checked as several riders had gone down at the same turn in the Moto3 session previous. It is said to be a tough corner, and a bump on the race line can easily throw riders wide.
More incidents during Free Practice
After the delay, the session was restarted but once again it was not long before more incidents occurred. Pedrosa fell at turn eight, Zarco ran wide at turn three, Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing) then tucked the front and came off at turn five with six minutes of the session remaining. Loriz Baz (Reale Avintia Racing) then had an off towards the end.
Pedrosa led FP3 for most of the session until his teammate, Marquez went top in the final stages. For one of the first times in a while, many of the factory riders made it into the top 10 rather than having to use Qualifying 1 to progress to Qualifying 2.
Marquez tops the final Free Practice session
Free Practice 4 followed later on but once again several incidents occurred. Iannone fell at turn nine of the track, then Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) went off at turn 13. Again Zarco was forced to run through the gravel. Marquez again remained quickest; the confidence from entering the summer-break as the championship leader must have done the world of good for his confidence.
Petrucci and Bautista finish top two after Qualifying 1
The short first Qualifying session got underway and Folger and Iannone were technically favourites to progress through although Petrucci and Bautista put up a good fight for the top spots. Lowes again came off at turn 12. One of his incidents meant that he sustained an injury on his right foot by his toes that needed medical treatment as he had ground through his booth and needed stitches on the hole left above his little toe.
Folger and Petrucci appeared to have secured the top two spots towards the end of the session but then Bautista, Barbera and rookie, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) were all flying. Bautista went top, and Rins slotted into second. A crash from a fast Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) when the front tucked ended his session early and took him out of contention, and then after the flag was waved, Petrucci completed another flying lap that left him top and he and Bautista progressed through to Qualifying 2.
Stiff competition during Qualifying 2, Marquez secures pole in Brno
Keen to secure a good position on the grid quickly, the top 12 made it out as soon as possible. Turn three saw Marquez almost lost it, and then again at turn 14 he was forced to make another save. Both he and Pedrosa were looking like the favourites to secure pole position, especially as Lorenzo had a lap time cancelled for exceeding track limits at turn 14.
Attacking laps from Marquez saw him steal pole. Nine times world champion, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) secured second on the grid, and completing the front row, Pedrosa was third. Aleix Espargaro unfortunately crashed when completing a personal best in 11th, and in the closing stages Vinales and Pedrosa were displaying a red first sector indicating they were quickest but dropped to yellow in the remaining three sectors and where unable to challenge further,
Vinales had to settle for a second row start in fourth ahead of Dovizioso and the top independent team rider and former winner Crutchlow in sixth. Aleix was seventh ahead of rookie, Zarco, Lorenzo, Baz, rookie, Folger and Iannone who completed the front four rows.
Wet warm-up session prior to the Monster Energy Grand Prix Czech Republic
Returning for the third and final day, race-day in Brno, by the time the MotoGP class got out on track to complete their warm-up session, it had rained and the track was wet. With the weather conditions so unpredictable, as throughout the weekend it would rain as the sun shone so the track was wet but drying although rain still fell, they used the session to practice switching between bikes. At one point, Baz and Lorenzo almost collided in the pit lane.
Once again it was the Ducatis who appeared to dominate in the wet with Lorenzo, Dovizioso, and Redding running fastest during the session. But then Marquez’s last lap stole the show as it saw him lap over one second quicker than anyone else on track. Was it a sign of things to come? Brno saw amazing efforts from the Brits the previous year, was history about to repeat itself?
Race declared wet before start
The Moto3 race was declared wet, and then the Moto2 race had to be stopped as it was initially declared dry, but then rain began to fall meaning it was unsafe and causing riders to raise their hands.
When the MotoGP class lined up on the grid it was declared a wet race but the track was drying and the riders could return to the pits at any time and swap bikes should they want to. As they completed the warm-up lap, there was a definite dry line, but it was still wet and overcast and so no riders thought to return and start the race from the pits.
Marquez takes the lead from pole position
The 22 lap race got underway and pole position man Marquez led into turn one before he began to pull away ahead of Lorenzo, donning his zimmer frame type wings in second. Within corners, Lorenzo was able to catch and overtake the fellow Spaniard. There were many big names at the front as Dovizioso and Rossi followed ahead of Vinales who passed Pedrosa on the opening lap.
As they tried to settle into a rhythm, riders benefited and lost out on positions all over the place. Rossi was up to second on the second lap as Marquez was seen missing his racing lines. Dovizioso then attempted to make a move on Marquez but Marquez retaliated.
Marquez goes backwards on track on soft tyre and enters pits to change bikes
Marquez then ran wide, and then proceeded to be beaten up on track by Zarco who was now fourth, and then other riders, until he dropped down to 10th. He decided that the lack of adhesion or grip from the tyres was insufficient and so decided straight away to pit to swap to slick tyres. He was joined by Folger and Pol Espargaro who decided to make the switch after two laps also; unfortunately Folger’s team were not ready and he was forced to just do a ride-through and return to the pits again.
This was to be so significant as he was the first rider to pit, and over the next few laps every rider also made the decision, or was called in to make the switch. However, the likes of Rossi, Dovizioso and Zarco decided to remain out as long as possible; this proved to be a terrible decision.
Chaos as riders change bikes in pits
Riders lost confidence and grip and would continue to gain or lose positions before eventually deciding to pit. Some riders made very sloppy pit stops wasting time like Lorenzo did. However, it was the incident that occurred between Aleix Espargaro and Iannone that proved dangerous.
Iannone had to go just passed Aleix to get to his bike in the pits. As he approached his box, Aleix pulled out without really looking to see if there was oncoming traffic and this forced Iannone to slam on in the brakes and lose control. He hit a Suzuki knocking it down and fell himself. His team, who were luckily avoided, had to scurry to pick up the machines as quickly as possible before sending the Italian on his way. The incident came under investigation and Aleix was forced to give up three track positions later on in the race.
Folger forced to make two pit stops
Folger made his second pit stop and this time was successful. Lorenzo eventually pitted on lap five, the progress Marquez was making was proving that it was the best decision but then Rossi, Zarco and Dovizioso all stayed out for another lap. Finally on lap six the two Italians made the switch but rookie, Zarco stayed out in front until eventually pitting on lap seven after dropping positions.
Marquez passes Zarco on slicks
Soon enough he was caught and overtaken by Marquez who took the lead on slick tyres. Making his decision early on meant that his tyres were well and truly up to optimum temperature and he was flying around the Automotodrom Brno. It took a couple of laps for the timesheets to be sorted out, but it was clear that the times of peoples’ decisions completely threw the race apart.
Marquez led ahead of Aleix who had passed Redding to claim second. Bautista was next on Redding’s tail; the British rider who is unsure where his racing career will take him needed a good result to help make him more appealing, it would have also done a great deal for his confidence. Rossi had re-joined in 12th and immediately attacked Pol Espargaro who had been off-roading in the gravel at one point.
Confusion for the next few laps as the order gradually becomes clear
Pedrosa was pushing and on lap nine passed local rider Karel Abraham (Pull & Bear Aspar Ducati) whose father owns the track, and then it was not long until he went on to pass Redding. Soon enough, with 13 laps remaining, he had also passed Aleix to place second where he remained as he pace matched that of his teammate who pitted a lap earlier.
Rossi continued to progress with Dovizioso in tow, passing Baz after Dovizoso passed Pol Espargaro; Pol then also went on to pass the French Ducati rider. Closer to the front Crutchlow made his way past Redding for fifth as Rossi claimed 10th from Miller on the start finish straight of the 12th lap. Folger, who had pitted twice was up to 17th after he passed both Lorenzo and Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing).
Aleix desperate to defend his position on track
On the same lap, Petrucci made an attempt to overtake Aleix but Aleix snapped back. The Italian tried again later on in the lap and was successful in earning third. Danger was coming as Vinales had passed Redding at turn six for sixth. Aleix then came under attack from Crutchlow who pushed him down o fifth meanwhile further back Dovizioso passed Rins shortly after Rossi had done. Soon enough, Vinales caught and passed his former teammate, Aleix pushing him to sixth.
Bautista crashes out
Unfortunately for Bautista his race weekend in Brno came to an early end as he crashed out at turn 10 on lap 4. After losing the front he tumbled through the gravel; fortunately he was unhurt.
Rossi and Dovizioso make way throught he pack
Rossi continued to make progress as he passed Abraham to place eighth and sure enough he was soon on Redding’s tail. Rossi made his move, but Redding was forced really wide and instead of losing one position, lost two as Dovizioso got past too. The two Italians then benefited from Espargaro's penalty as he had to give up the three positions due to “unsafe release in the pit lane” that allowed them to again progress up the ranks.
Vinales and Crutchlow battle for fourth
Meanwhile Vinales and Crutchlow were fighting for fourth with Vinales proving successful. Once he passed the Brit, he then went on to pass Petrucci to claim the final podium spot. Zarco and Folger moved up 4th and 15th when they passed on the 17th lap, but then unfortunately for the Frenchman he then crashed out of the race with six laps remaining. Redding lost out on another position to rookie, Rins placing him in 11th but then he came under attack from Pol who also passed the Brit before passing the rookie and then went on to take Abraham’s position.
Crutchlow struggling with grip?
Crutchlow and Petrucci were scrapping on track as Rossi stalked them. Crutchlow appeared to break away leaving Petrucci to fend off Rossi. Rossi passed the Ducati rider within corners to take fifth claiming another vital point in the championship. Crutchlow was then seen running off the track, running over the painted areas of the track that if he used too much would see he penalised for exceeding track limits which would mean he would have to give the position to Rossi rather than make him earn it.
Crutchlow ended up going wide once again on the penultimate lap, but managed to keep Rossi at bay. Rossi completed a personal best time though, the determination to recover more championship points would help. Dovizioso again progressed, as he was next to take on Petrucci forcing him down to seventh. On the last lap Rossi made his final move leaving the Brit no time to retaliate and finished up stealing fourth from last year’s winner.
Marquez wins in Brno
Marquez claimed a back-to-back win when he emerged victorious in the Czech Republic. He finished comfortably over 12 seconds ahead of his teammate Pedrosa who regretted pitting one lap sooner; it was his 150th podium that leaves him behind Rossi on 250 and Giacamo Agostini on 159. Vinales returned to the podium for the first time in a while securing third; one that was much needed for him, his team and his championship contention.
Rossi finished fourth placing the two full factory teams in the top four and Crutchlow finished as the top independent team rider in fifth. Dovizioso was sixth in Brno as the top Ducati ahead of Petrucci in seventh. The Espargaro brothers followed on with Aleix ending up eighth and Pol ninth and rookie, Folger completed the top 10. Rookies Rins and Zarco were 111th and 12th ahead of Abraham in 13th. Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) was 14th and Lorenzo claimed the last championship point after he overtook Redding on the last lap to finish 15th.
Redding just misses out on the points
That left Redding just outside the points in 16th ahead of Tito Rabat (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) in 17th. British rookie, Lowed was 18th ahead of Iannone and Barbera who completed the list of finishers in 19th and 20th. Smith retired with two laps of the race remaining.
Marquez extends his championship lead
Marquez’s win means he is now on 154 points and has enhanced his championship lead to 14 points over Vinales now on 140. Dovizioso is third with 133 points and Rossi lags him by one point in fourth on 132 points. Pedrosa’s 20 points in Brno means he has closed the gap between him and Rossi to nine points as he is now on 123 points.
Zarco remains the highest placed rookie in sixth on 88 points, 11 ahead of his rookie teammate Folger on 77 points in seventh. Petrucci and Crutchlow are now both on 75 points in eighth and ninth and Lorenzo completed the top 10 with 66 points 10 rounds in.