Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati have made it two in a row, adding today's Catalunya win to last week's at Mugello.

Today’s conditions were difficult for everyone; track temperature during morning warm-up had been 91 degrees Fahrenheit but in the race became a scalding 129 degrees. The set-up that works in one state may fail in the other – especially if your riding style is strongly grip-dependent. This was especially hard on series points leader Maverick Vinales;

“I felt nobody could stop me in the first two races (which he won). I was feeling like the best. And now I feel like 10th, 15th.”

Dovizioso took the measure of the day and rode accordingly;

andrea dovizioso catalunya gp race action
Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati Team, Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017Courtesy of Ducati Team

“We realized the grip was so bad and the rear tire consumption so high that we shouldn’t just focus on the speed. And when we started the race no one could push because everyone had to save the tire a lot. I overtook two riders and was behind Dani, and decided to stay there. He saved the rear tire well, and I did, but I was able to conserve the front.

“Ten laps to the end I tried to push but when I got to the front I realized my tire was finished. But it was the same for them, too.

“But I was able to save the front tire in a better way because my acceleration was better and I never brake really hard.”

marc marquez catalunya gp race action
Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team, Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017Courtesy of Repsol Honda

The Honda men are compelled to brake really hard because that is the single strongest point of their machine. Acceleration and top speed have been middling-to-poor the past two years – Honda's approach to fixing the previous problem of too-aggressive acceleration. So in practices and race, there was Marquez, braking with his rear tire in the air and front end shaking, right at the limit. It is very much to his credit that he can quite consistently compensate in this way for the shortcomings of Honda's R&D process, but it is a precarious way to win races.

Braking as this obliged them to do, Marquez and Dani Pedrosa worked their front tires harder than Dovi. Dovi could save his front by relying on Ducati’s strong points; acceleration and top speed, which are the best in the paddock (today they were reaching 344-kph, which is 213-mph).

Marquez demonstrated sincerity in his search for speed through practice by crashing again and again – twice in Q2!

dani pedrosa catalunya gp race action
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda Team, Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017Courtesy of Repsol Honda

He said, “All weekend I just pushed. In the race my target was to finish in front of Dani. But in the end Dovi was one step faster than us, especially on the main straight.”

So much crashing works the crew very hard. Marquez said, “My team also believe in me and said yesterday, ‘don’t worry about the bikes – we can work all night to repair everything.’ They convinced me that I’m the same Marc as in Austin and that I need to keep pushing.”

Pedrosa said, “…conditions were very difficult for the tires the whole weekend, and also today the grip wasn’t very good. I tried to lead the race, to stay in front, but I could see Dovi coming on the straight, cutting the gas to not get too close, saving the tires a little bit better than me. I tried to save them all the way, but I just couldn’t do it enough.

jorge lorenzo catalunya gp race action
Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati Team, Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017Courtesy of Ducati Team

“We managed to get on the podium and this is great.”

Jorge Lorenzo had the fastest first lap, taking over from fast starter Pedrosa at turn 5 and then leading the first five laps of the race, turning minute-forty-sixes. Then he slowed by a second a lap and was passed by Marquez and Pedrosa, then recovered later in the race to finish 4th. He showed that he is indeed learning to ride the Ducati as its present state of development requires (Remember Cal Crutchlow, describing trying to ride the Yamaha in his own Superbike style; “It wouldn’t do it”, he said. “I had to learn to ride it its way.”).

Lorenzo said, “…today I lost a bit of pace from lap 6 onwards and I was passed under braking a few times, losing a lot of time at the mid-race point when my pace was slower than the leading group’s. But toward the end I managed to gain a few places to finish…in 4th.”

johann zarco catalunya gp race action
Johann Zarco, Monster Yamaha Tech3, Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017Courtesy of Monster Yamaha Tech3

Valentino Rossi was not well pleased, finishing 8th.

“For me, the main problem is that the bike has more understeer and later (in the race) the problem becomes very big for the rear tire (wheelspin). At the end, the main problem is the rear traction, especially on the right, because already after ten laps I was very much in trouble and had to slow down very much.”

Why would the Yamaha spin while the Ducatis accelerated? It is a general rule of set-up for a corner-speed bike like the Yamaha that it be 'long & low', both of which factors reduce weight transfer to the rear tire during acceleration. As grip becomes poorer, the Yamahas will spin first and the taller, shorter-wheelbase Ducatis and Hondas will not.

jonas folger catalunya gp race action
Jonas Folger, Monster Yamaha Tech3, Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017Courtesy of Monster Yamaha Tech3

Then why not just change it? Each set-up is a collection of choices tending to a single result, and for the Yamahas that result is stability at the limit of grip while doing what the Yamahas normally do so well – rounding long fast corners faster than anyone else. If they give that up, not only is that strength negated, but the riders must alter their styles to suit. Different bikes cannot exchange qualities by twisting the clickers and “dropping in” different springs. Each is designed to be what it is.

Years ago I had the lecture “Against Corner-Speed” from Kenny Roberts Sr. in his little pied-a-terre in Carmel, CA. He said corner speed looks attractive because apex speed is so high, but it is possible only while tire side-grip lasts. Also, to make corner speed work, the rider has to sit right on the limit of grip all the way around the corner (he cited those who had failed!), producing much longer risk exposure than for the point-and-shoot style, in which the rider brakes late and hard, gets turned early and quickly, and can then use the rest of the corner as an expanding-radius drag strip that produces a high corner exit speed.

A practical example was Honda’s short-lived late-1990s two-stroke NSR500V, a V-twin whose light weight (permitted by the rules) was supposed to make it competitive. If the V-twin rider could get away first, he might indeed lap as quickly as the 4-cylinder bikes, but as soon as its tire edge grip began to decline, the acceleration of the fours would let them pass and depart.

alvaro bautista catalunya gp race action
Alvaro Bautista, Pull&Bear Aspar Team, Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017Courtesy of Pull&Bear Aspar Team

After the early 1980s, racing tires developed away from the abuse-tolerance necessary to make Kenny Roberts’s dirt-track-derived “throttle steering” method work, and as more riders advanced to 500 from 250 rather than from Superbike, extreme side-grip became a central goal of design. Full use of that side-grip has now become central to Yamaha’s method. It didn’t work today at Catalunya, but better days are coming and the Yamahas will be fast again.

What about Johann Zarco, fifth today, far ahead of the factory men Rossi and Vinales, 8th and 10th?

“…everyone struggled physically because of the hot weather. …there wasn’t much grip on the track and the tires dropped. However, this kind of situation is not a big disaster for me.”

Zarco remained cool despite the late pass by Lorenzo, and was able to pick off teammate Jonas Folger on the last lap.

valentino rossi catalunya gp race action
Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

Aleix Esparagaro was sure in practice that a good finish was within reach on his Aprilia (so good on used tires…) but again an engine failure stopped him.

“…from the start I felt that the bike was not working…not revving normally.

“The engine was destroyed.”

If there is a rider consensus about this season it is that anything can happen – whoever is on top this weekend may be “the least among ye” at the next race. The old pattern of scientific set-up optimization by the top factories, resulting in a predictable finish order, has been broken by the new combination of many strong satellite bikes and riders, with all teams using the same hammer-and-chisel ‘single software” from an earlier, simpler time.

andrea dovizioso catalunya gp podium
Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Dani Pedrosa: Grand Prix of Catalunya Podium 2017Courtesy of Ducati Team

Race Results

Pos. Rider Num. Nation Team Time/Gap
1 DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA Ducati Team 44'41.518
2 MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA Repsol Honda Team 3.544
3 PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA Repsol Honda Team 6.774
4 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA Ducati Team 9.608
5 ZARCO Johann 5 FRA Monster Yamaha Tech3 13.838
6 FOLGER Jonas 94 GER Monster Yamaha Tech3 13.921
7 BAUTISTA Alvaro 19 SPA Pull&Bear Aspar Team 16.763
8 ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 20.821
9 BARBERA Hector 8 SPA Reale Avintia Racing 23.952
10 VINALES Maverick 25 SPA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 24.189
11 CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR LCR Honda 28.329
12 BAZ Loris 76 FRA Reale Avintia Racing 33.281
13 REDDING Scott 45 GBR Octo Pramac Racing 35.200
14 ABRAHAM Karel 17 CZE Pull&Bear Aspar Team 39.436
15 RABAT Tito 53 SPA Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS 40.872
16 IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA Team Suzuki Ecstar 43.221
17 GUINTOLI Sylvain 50 FRA Team Suzuki Ecstar 44.655
18 ESPARGARO Pol 44 SPA Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 48.993
19 LOWES Sam 22 GBR Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 55.492
20 PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA Octo Pramac Racing 2 laps
21 MILLER Jack 43 AUS Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS 12 laps
22 ESPARGARO Aleix 41 SPA Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 18 laps

Rider Standings

Pos. Rider Num. Nation Points Team
1 VINALES Maverick 25 SPA 111 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
2 DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 104 Ducati Team
3 MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA 88 Repsol Honda Team
4 PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA 84 Repsol Honda Team
5 ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA 83 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
6 ZARCO Johann 5 FRA 75 Monster Yamaha Tech3
7 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 59 Ducati Team
8 FOLGER Jonas 94 GER 51 Monster Yamaha Tech3
9 CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR 45 LCR Honda
10 PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA 42 Octo Pramac Racing

More Photos From The Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017

hector barbear catalunya gp race action
Hector Barbera, Reale Avintia Racing, Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017Courtesy of Reale Avintia Racing
maverick vinales catalunya gp race action
Maverick Vinales, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, Grand Prix of Catalunya 2017Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

Get All The Latest News Right Here