Cal Crutchlow won what likely will go down as one of the most bizarre MotoGP races in recent history, a contest complete with a last-second reset of nearly the entire field of riders, the pole-sitter starting alone at the front of the grid, three in-race penalties for the race favorite and an outcome not seen in the top class since 1979.
Crutchlow's win, coupled with a no-points finish by Marc Marquez and a sixth-place by Andrea Dovizioso, put him in the points lead, the first time a British rider has led the championship since Barry Sheene in 1979.
Johann Zarco grabbed second place at Argentina's Termas de Rio Hondo track and briefly led the contest headed into the penultimate lap. Alex Rins, who also led the contest late, took the final podium spot, his best finish in MotoGP. And Jack Miller, the pole sitter who gambled twice with slicks, finished fourth after leading the race early on.
Maverick Vinales (5th) improved what had started as a dismal weekend for the Yamaha factory rider. The same could be said for Andrea Dovizioso (6th) who was well off the pace in the dry and only somewhat better in the wet. Tito Rabat had his best-ever MotoGP finish after a strong weekend for the satellite Ducati rider. Andrea Iannone took eighth, just in front of MotoGP rookie Hafzih Syahrin (9th) who had the best weekend of his early, top-division career.
Danilo Petrucci completed the top 10.
The race hadn't even begun when it took a turn for the weird. Initially, all of the riders -- except one -- entered the grid with rain tires mounted. That single exception? Jack Miller, of course, the rider who took a risk with slicks on a damp track to claim pole position on Saturday. But as the grid waited, the track dried. Riders began returning their bikes to the garage for the switch to slicks.
Soon, only Miller remained on the grid. Under standard race rules, riders who return to the pits after gridding must start the race from pit row. But this left race direction with a problem: How do you safely start 23 bikes from the pits?
The answer is you don't, race direction decided. To give Miller the benefit of his early gamble to fit the bike with slicks, race direction elected to start Miller alone on the front row and move the entire grid of riders five rows back, giving the Australian the potential for an easy holeshot and early lead.
So, the grid was set. The start was mere seconds away when Marc Marquez stalled his bike. The Spaniard and reigning world champion leaped off his bike, pushed and (remarkably) bump-started it on his own. He u-turned the RC213V, regridded the bike and started with the pack.
Miller, now with a five-row head start, grabbed the lead immediately. Dani Pedrosa took second followed by Zarco and Marquez. Marquez made quick work of the pair of riders in front of him and seized second within half a lap.
At Turn 13, Zarco dove inside Dani Pedrosa who was holding third at the time. But there was precious little room for the Frenchman to make the inside move. He forced Pedrosa wide and onto a wet patch of track. The veteran Honda rider high-sided immediately, his race ended on the first lap.
Zarco now was in third with Marquez already closing on Miller. Marquez grabbed the lead on the second lap.
But race direction was already huddled to discuss Marquez's start. When he stalled the bike, race direction had yelled at him to start from pit lane. Marquez either ignored or didn't hear the order. But in u-turning the bike, the world champion violated a rule so basic it is standard in club-racing: You cannot ride a bike against the established course direction.
Out front and with 20 laps remaining, Marquez was riding away from the field with a 1.5-second advantage. That ended a lap later when race direction assessed him a ride-through penalty for the grid violation. Miller returned to the top spot. Marquez re-entered the race at 19th.
With 18 laps to go, Miller, Rins, Zarco, championship-leader Dovizioso and Crutchlow made up the top five. At the rear of the pack, Marquez was on a tear, setting the fastest laps in the field. Then Marquez again earned the attention of race direction. He dove inside Aleix Espargaro, bumped and forced the rider wide. Race direction forced Marquez to give up the position and return to 19th.
He did. And then Marquez began his second charge through both the field and race-direction's sensibilities.
Third time is the charm
With 12 laps to go, the front four of Miller, Rins, Zarco and Crutchlow had gapped the field. Rins passed Miller for the lead and then lost it again to the Pramac Ducati rider. With nine laps remaining, Rins seized the lead again. In the middle of the pack, Marquez passed Andrea Iannone for 10th. Two laps later, Marquez took eighth.
Rins then ran wide allowing both Miller, Crutchlow and Zarco through. The front of the race now was Miller, Crutchlow Zarco and Rins. With six laps remaining, Crutchlow took the lead after Miller drifted wide. Miller faded into fourth, a position he would hold until the race's end. Marquez, with a shot at fifth place, locked onto sixth-place Valentino Rossi's tail with five laps remaining.
Then at turn 13, Marquez ended Rossi's day along with any chance for points by either rider.
Running laps significantly faster than the rider in front of him, Marquez suddenly charged inside as Rossi headed to the corner's apex. The bikes collided with Rossi getting forced wide. But because Marquez seemingly had overcooked the corner, he too drifted wide on Rossi’s inside flank forcing the Italian onto the wet grass where he low-sided immediately.
Marquez now held sixth. Race direction (again) began to examine Marquez-inspired video.
At the front, the pace heated up into a three-rider war. Zarco passed Crutchlow for the lead. Then Rins passed Crutchlow. Crutchlow returned the favor half a lap later and set his sights on Zarco. With less than two laps remaining, Crutchlow put together two of his fastest laps of the race, repassing the Tech III Yamaha rider at Turn 4 and taking the lead for good.
Marquez pipped Vinales on the second-to-last corner for fifth, initially. But after race direction examined the incident with Rossi, they docked the Marquez 30 seconds, putting him in 18th. Rossi remounted and finished 19th.
|Pos.||No.||Rider||Bike||Time / Diff.|
|38||Bradley SMITH||KTM||7 Laps|
|41||Aleix ESPARGARO||Aprilia||11 Laps|
|Not Finished 1st Lap|
|26||Dani PEDROSA||Honda||0 Lap|