There was a foreshadowing feeling as I tuned in to watch the race.
Valentino Rossi on pole position is not a regularly occurring event even throughout his own historical run of race starts. But here he was to lead the grid, and for the second time at that this season. Rossi previously grabbed pole position during the Jerez GP in which he proceeded to win in dominant fashion by leading from the lights going out and to the checkered flag. It was an uncharacteristic Rossi who won the Jerez GP, but somehow I felt like maybe this was lightning about to strike twice. And with Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez both gridded in the row behind him, it really felt like a distinct possibility.
When the lights went out Rossi had a good start, which is great in comparison to Maverick Vinales who was gridded in 2nd and Andrea Iannone who was in 3rd, the latter two eventually finding themselves in 11th and 10th respectively at the end of the first lap. Both eventually made their way through the pack they fell behind as the race progressed, but one has to wonder how much better either one could have finished had they not blown their race starts.
But better than Rossi’s start was Jorge Lorenzo’s, a rider who has mastered the art of race launches though even I was a little unsure of how much ground he could make up before the first corner, with the likes of Rossi and Iannone on his missile of a Ducati (Iannone eventually set the highest top speed recorded by a GP bike in history during this race). Then again, I hadn’t banked on Iannone blowing his race start. Lorenzo got the holeshot after all, leading out of the first corner with Rossi close behind. The two factory Yamaha riders stayed close together, keen to have a race on their own as they even built a slight gap from the rest of the grid behind them.
Rossi didn’t take long to make his first move on Lorenzo, pulling his signature out-braking maneuver on Lorenzo into Turn 1 of the second lap. But Rossi couldn’t stop his Yamaha M1 enough to not run wide into the corner, allowing Lorenzo back through. While Rossi still stayed dangerously close behind Lorenzo thereafter, this would be the only time that Lorenzo would give up the lead to Rossi. Whereas Rossi’s win in the Jerez GP earlier this season could be dubbed as Lorenzo-esque – leading from start to finish and building and maintaining a gap to the rest of the field that never had a chance – Lorenzo’s strength on the brakes during this round was almost Rossi-esque. Save for Rossi’s first attempt on Lorenzo to overtake on the brakes, Lorenzo never allowed another pass from Rossi on the brakes by out-braking Rossi on the corners. This is as remarkable as Valentino Rossi on pole position. When you think of GP riders that are strong on the front brakes, Lorenzo isn’t even in the top five of anyone’s list. It was clear that Rossi had to sit back and reassess his game plan. He’d have to study his teammate to find a weakness who’s otherwise on the same machinery as he is.
But with fifteen laps to go into a race of twenty three laps, whatever Rossi was concocting would not be realized as his Yamaha M1 suffered a mechanical issue, white smoke profusely blowing out of his machine’s exhaust like a white flag that Rossi didn’t want to wave. It was race over for The Doctor, and the throng of Rossi fans in his hometown race even made for an early exit from the remaining race. They’ve seen this before, when Lorenzo is left on his own at the front. It more than foreshadowed a win for the Spaniard, it was practically a guarantee. If only they had stayed, perhaps the rest of the race could’ve offered a saving grace.
Marc Marquez picked up right where Rossi left off, not just in position but in keeping Lorenzo on his toes for the rest of the race. The Repsol Honda rider, despite noting that the Mugello circuit does not at all favor the Hondas, found enough pace to cling on to the back of Lorenzo. It set the stage for one of the best last lap duels of the modern MotoGP era, starting with contact between the two riders as they stood up from each of their machines for the braking zone into the first corner. Contact at over 200 miles per hour. A couple of corners later and Marquez managed to stick a pass to Lorenzo before the apex, and it seemed that Marquez could actually pull away, perhaps Lorenzo had burnt up all of his grip having spent the early parts of the race keeping Valentino Rossi at bay. But Lorenzo didn’t yield that easily, as whatever gap Marquez built on him he quickly did away with, finding himself right at the tail of Marquez past the halfway point of the circuit and even making a move on Marquez I hadn’t seen before in this circuit. But as Lorenzo had pulled off his move into the first part of a chicane, it effectively ruined his line for the transition into the second part of the chicane, Marquez sliding past Lorenzo again, narrowly missing the front of Lorenzo’s M1. Into the penultimate corner the two Spaniards went, and it looked as if Lorenzo would try to out-brake Marquez again.
But Marquez did not yield, and Lorenzo was forced to keep his bike stood up just enough to stay on the front brakes to not hit the back of Marquez’ Honda. Lorenzo found himself pinched into the final corner, giving up a gap of a few bike lengths to Marquez coming out of the corner and towards the finish line. The two Spaniards stood their bikes in succession, pinning their throttles for the drag into the finish line with a gap to fit a handful of motorcycles between them. I had written off Lorenzo for the win. The commentators had pegged Marquez to take the checked flag. In the physical world we live in, this would’ve sealed the victory for Marquez as he exited the corner for the drag into the checked flag without Lorenzo by his side. But the drag race to the finish line somehow found Lorenzo’s M1 beating Marquez’ RC213V by a hundredth of a second.
I completely gasped a breath of disbelief. For the most of part of the race it looked as if Lorenzo was going to win but when he finally did, it almost didn’t make sense that he did.
It had been a race of false foreshadows with an unexpected climax that could not be determined up to a hundredth of a second before the race finished.
Dennis also co-hosts for BrotoGP, a MotoGP-centric podcast that was created by four average motorcycle road racing fans, for you above-average motorcycle road racing fans. Tune in at BrotoGP.com for your road racing discussion fix!