Sunday Summary at Brno: Three Great Races

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There must be something in the Moravian water. Three races at Brno on Sunday, and all three genuine barnburners. What’s more, the podiums had a good mixture of experience, age, and nationality.

Only five of the nine were Spanish, while in Moto2, there wasn’t a single Spaniard on the podium. And at the end, the championships in all three classes got a little more interesting.

Race of the day? Impossible to say, but the 2013 Czech Grand Prix will surely be remembered for the MotoGP race. After a tense race with a blistering finish last year, the 2013 race was even better.

A brilliant start by Jorge Lorenzo – perhaps the best of his career – saw him catapult into the lead at the start. He pushed to break the following group, consisting of Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow.

Crutchlow soon dropped off the back of the Repsol Hondas, got caught up in a battle with Alvaro Bautista, then crashed out when he upped the pace to attempt to catch Marquez and Pedrosa once again.

A red helmet appeared on the timing screens behind Crutchlow’s name in one sector of the track, and then it flashed “Crash #35, rider OK”.

“I lost the front but I was pushing. I’ve got nothing to lose and I needed to catch the guys as the front and I just pushed a little bit too much,” Crutchlow said. After a superb pole on Saturday, his race was one to forget.

The real excitement came at the front however, as Marquez chased Lorenzo down. The Repsol Honda rookie had tried to keep Lorenzo in sight at the start, but had struggled with a full tank, and having to fend off a hungry Pedrosa.

After a few laps Marquez picked up the pace. He closed Lorenzo down and started snapping at his heels, looking for a way past. It took him nearly seven laps, but eventually, Marquez found a way though, slipping his way masterfully up the inside of Lorenzo at Turn 3.

That was not part of Lorenzo’s plan, and he was not about to take it lying down. Lorenzo hung tough, held the outside line and exploited the better corner speed of the Yamaha, held station round the outside of Marquez. As they flicked back right again for Turn 4, Lorenzo firmly seized back the lead, in a display of clear and clean aggression.

His resistance would last for half a lap, Marquez chomping at the bit for a second chance. That came on the way back up the hill, at the Turn 11/12 combination. Marquez dived up the inside of Lorenzo again at 11, and this time closed the door firmly into 12, so firmly that Dani Pedrosa almost got past.

Lorenzo had no thought of surrender. Now it was his turn to snipe at Marquez, while simultaneously holding off the unwelcome advances of Pedrosa from behind. Lorenzo harassed Marquez for a lap and a half, before once again using the corner speed of the Yamaha to sweep through 13 and then swoop underneath at 14, retaking the lead from the young upstart.

His lead would not last long, as Marquez tried the same attack at Turn 3, this time holding a tighter line and sweeping back across the track and into Turn 4 more forcefully, leaving Lorenzo no alternative but to cede the position. Lorenzo’s fight was over, losing out to Dani Pedrosa a lap later.

Though tension had been building for six or seven laps, the race exploded for just four laps, before Marquez finally seized control. Those laps were a demonstration of just how extraordinary the top three are at the moment. Marquez’s first pass on Lorenzo was classic Turn 3 at Brno, hard and fast on the brakes.

Lorenzo’s defense of that pass, upping his corner speed to hang on to the position on the outside line, was one of the most tenacious and daring of recent years. Marquez’s second pass at Turn 3 showed just how quickly Marquez learns, adjusting his line to prevent Lorenzo from using the same trick to defend.

To catch the young Spaniard out, Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Rossi, whoever happens to get in his way, will have to invent new ways of attacking him, as each trick only works once.

Marquez’s victory means he breaks Kenny Roberts’s record of most wins in a rookie season, taking his total to five. He also becomes the first rider to win four races in a row since Valentino Rossi in 2008. He leads the championship by 26 points, and is one race clear of his teammate Dani Pedrosa.

He has 44 points over reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo, who is seeing the title slip slowly from his grasp. Marquez has passed from the remarkable to the phenomenal, to whatever it is that comes beyond that. Journalists writing about Marquez ran out of superlatives to describe him some time ago, and he just keeps on getting better. He is redefining the sport.

What can Jorge Lorenzo do to stop him? Lorenzo’s team manager Wilco Zeelenberg outlined their plan: try to put as much pressure on Marquez as they can, in the hope that he will make a mistake. So far, that plan has not had much success, Marquez appears to be immune to pressure. He keeps saying that even though he is leading the championship, there is no pressure on him to actually win it. Even if he crashed out of every race for the remainder of the season, he will still have had a phenomenal rookie year.

What Yamaha really need is more help, though Lorenzo would not be drawn into any overt criticism of the factory. They are “an unbelievable factory working 24 hours a day,” Lorenzo said. However, he also made it perfectly clear that he was happy that he could not have ridden any harder. The message was plain: the problem is not Jorge Lorenzo, the problem is the Yamaha.

Teammate Valentino Rossi concurred, though the Italian has extra problems to deal with. He and his team have still not found a solution to their braking problem, but that is more of a set up issue. The introduction of the seamless gearbox is the next step required, Rossi said, but they also need something to help with drive out of corners.

“We suffer a bit when we open the throttle compared to the Hondas,” Rossi said. That means a new frame to help create more grip, but doing that while retaining the ability to hold so much corner speed is a difficult balance.

Rossi also had a novel solution to stopping Marquez from dominating MotoGP for the next few years: “Maybe he will decide to change sports, and go and race in Formula 1,” the Italian joked. “I could give him some good advice,” he smiled.

The tense MotoGP race came after a scintillating Moto2 race which helped keep the championship tight. Mika Kallio was the perfect teammate to Scott Redding, demonstrating the reason the team keeps signing him up each year.

On a weekend when Redding was struggling with finding a working set up, Kallio runs at the front and wins the race, gaining useful publicity for the team, while also taking valuable points from Pol Espargaro.

Kallio turned up at Brno with a glint in his eye, and a determination not to be beaten. The 30-year-old Finn is always consistent, but sometimes he has that little bit extra which allows him to exceed himself.

Kallio’s victory was hard fought. Thomas Luthi was also on a charge, and looked at one point as if the race would be his, but Kallio seized control at the end to win the race. Takaaki Nakagami also came close to his first victory, a change of strategy starting to pay off for the Japanese rider.

For the first time, Nakagami worked on managing his tires, giving up on leading when he realized he couldn’t try to escape, and settling back into the leading group and trying to attack late in the game. He tried, but Kallio would have none of it.

Pol Espargaro took 4th, though he had to fight off a fierce Johann Zarco to hold on to it. Meanwhile, Scott Redding struggled to 8th, but given his history at the track – he has never scored points in Moto2 at the Brno circuit – an 8th place is not too bad. It also means that he only loses 5 points to Espargaro, and still leads the Spaniard by 21 points.

Both sides can claim a moral victory at Brno, and both sides are just as dedicated to beating each other as they have been all year. Their rivalry grows, as demonstrated by the fierce battle the two had early in the race. There really is a lot of racing still left for the Moto2 title this year.

Last race of the day was Moto3 – a peculiarity, and down to Bernie Ecclestone deciding to host the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix from the magnificent Spa Francorchamps circuit on the same day as Brno. In TV terms, F1 easily trumps MotoGP, and so the bikes had to make way for the cars.

The Moto3 race proved just as fascinating as the previous two races, and had an utterly deserved winner. Luis Salom won his fifth race of the season, in almost identical style to so many of his races this year. Wait until the end of the race, then force a pass, and then push on to destroy the people following him. It worked like a charm, and Salom further extended his championship lead over Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins.

The big surprise at Brno was the appearance of the Hondas. If the KTMs have one Achilles heel, it is their handling, the bikes being harder to turn than the Hondas and FTR Hondas currently left on the grid.

Jack Miller was fighting right at the front until his tire nearly fell apart and he found himself lapping four seconds a lap slower than he had been. But Alexis Masbou was also right at the front, finishing in 6th just 4.7 seconds off the winner. That is less than half the size the Hondas must cede to the KTMs at most tracks, the flowing nature of Brno working in the FTR Honda riders’ favor.

It is ironic that Honda should be dominating MotoGP so thoroughly, while in the cheapest class, the KTMs are blowing them away. Moto3’s cost-cutting formula may look good in theory, but in practice, KTM and Mahindra are selling factory-spec engines and chassis to the teams at a very high price, while Honda is sticking to the spirit of the rules and producing a bike down to a price.

Unfortunately for HRC, unless there is a revolution and a high-powered Moto3 engine on the horizon, they are about to learn that the spirit of the rules is a meaningless term in professional motorcycle racing. If they continue along that path, there could well be not a single Honda on the grid next year.

Photo: HRC

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.