I repeat: This is the golden age of motorcycle racing. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo made the Brno MotoGP a Ducati 1-2 ahead of Marc Márquez with fractions of a second separating them during the whole 21-lap grind in heat, over hot, bumpy pavement. All the while managing degrading rear tires. Or might you have found it more exciting to see Giacomo Agostini on the MV Triple win Spa by nearly four minutes in 1968, comfortably seated with a refreshing drink as second place—a single-cylinder G50—came thudding past? No contest!

Valentino Rossi got away first at the start, but in practice had said, "My pace, unfortunately, is not very strong."

Márquez had dismissed this by saying, “On Sunday, he will be there.”

Dovi got past Rossi during lap 1 and led seven laps while battle raged behind them. Rossi then got past to lead three laps but “The rear tire lost a little bit of grip and started to slide—for us it’s difficult, the acceleration.”

Valentino Rossi
Valentino Rossi led a handful of laps but finished just of the podium.Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

Rossi’s half-second rear tire drop occurred on lap 11, making Dovi’s pass easier and moving #46 back to fifth behind Cal Crutchlow.

A group of six riders—Dovi, Márquez, Lorenzo, then Crutchlow, Rossi, and Johann Zarco—had gapped the rest of the field, but after half distance the top three increased their pace, dropping the others. Having all conserved their rear tires, it was now time to race.

Was the day won by Ducati's high top speed? The numbers say no, for only 1.5 mph separated the top five or six riders. Rather, it was a matter of having torque delivery smooth enough to best use the available grip. This is not just laptop magic, for as former Ducati engineer Corrado Cecchinelli once observed, electronics cannot civilize a harsh torque curve as well as it can a more manageable one. If it were as simple as building maximum horsepower then hitting "Civilize" on the keyboard, every manufacturer would do it. But Ducati has clearly found a way to make higher horsepower that is still capable of being civilized.

And why would Ducati have such an advantage? Rossi, who has in a variety of ways applied the lash to Yamaha this year and last in hope of getting better electronic strategies from it, presented this theory:

“[Yamaha] took the wrong approach to the [spec] ECU. The change to the regulation was meant to reduce the gap between the factory bikes and satellite machines, to have less perfect [for the factories] races. Yamaha believed in this philosophy, the others didn’t and they found a way to get the new electronics working like the old.”

The “way” they found may have been creative use of the “signal-processing” computer packaged in unit with the inertial measuring unit (IMU).

Dovizioso argues that Ducati have greatly improved over last year: “If you study every weekend, you can easily see that our bike is better than last year.

“Jorge was there and Marc was there, but I had a feeling they were on a limit unlike me.

“At this track we have an advantage in acceleration and that gave us the possibility to fight until the end with Marc, who had a better pace in practice.

“…it wasn’t just about speed, but speed and the sliding.”

Lorenzo has learned more than just adapting to the Ducati. He has taught himself to flexibly alter his style in the face of non-ideal conditions:

Jorge Lorenzo
Jorge Lorenzo saved his tires in the first half of the race and was able push with his teammate during the second half.Courtesy of Ducati

“I decided before the race to try a different strategy this time to save the tires because, without that, I wouldn’t have finished the race. Especially on the front, I had a lot of graining (usually interpreted as indicating inadequate tensile strength in the rubber) on the right side of the tire. So I needed to change my riding style completely, lean a bit less and to wait for my moment, from the middle of the race until the end—and it worked.”

He had used this strategy of minimizing the time spent on the tire edges to win two races earlier this season.

As the rear tires of the top three riders lost grip, they all shifted to harder braking as a mean of going faster, shifting some pressure from the rear tire to the front.

Lorenzo continued: “Marc and Andrea on the last laps started to brake earlier and earlier, so I recovered a lot in braking but on acceleration I used just a little bit, so I arrived too late for them.

“When I overtook Marc I needed just one more lap to catch Andrea…”

But there were only 21 laps in the race—and Lorenzo’s last lap was the fastest of the event.

Marc Márquez
Marc Márquez gave credit to the Ducati’s acceleration as the deciding factor for his third-place finish behind Andrea Dovizioso and Lorenzo.Courtesy of Honda

Márquez saw it this way: “The problem arrived when I was fighting against two Ducati riders because they have really strong acceleration. More than the acceleration is the top speed and then a really strong brake point.”

Again, he decided his job was to earn points, not to throw a race away trying for an unrealistic aim—to win despite threatening risk:

“The good thing was that Valentino was already behind so my main target was try to increase the advantage in the championship on him.”

Cal Crutchlow (fifth after Rossi's last-lap pass) said, "I had a lot of floating in the middle of the corners and I was unable to open the throttle. I had to wait a long time to open the throttle because I was still trying to control the rear slid[ing] in the middle of the corners."

How did he get passed by Rossi?

“I had a decent enough gap on Valentino on the last lap,” Crutchlow said, “but I made a big mistake in turn 3. Then he just put the rest of the lap together and passed me into the last corner. He made a lunge, perfect, exactly what I had been doing to everyone else in the race, and he did it to me in the last corner. So I suppose I got my comeuppance!”

Floating in the middle of the corners? Several riders had observed in practice that the circuit’s bumps have become more pronounced since last year (Lorenzo actually said, “a lot more potholes”). Crutchlow has commented several times before that the Honda “blows the middle of the corner” because, as strongly and stiffly built as it has to be to support hard braking and sudden maneuver, it gives up the corner grip and potential corner speed that more flexible chassis can deliver.

One of the reasons cited by Ducati team manager Gigi Dall’Igna for seeking Lorenzo as a rider was to have his experience at their disposal in seeking higher corner speed (which had for years been the strong point of the Yamahas Lorenzo rode). This is a possible element in today’s Ducati success, for if the Hondas are “floating in the middle of the corners” that means they are not accelerating, making the Ducatis look even stronger in acceleration.

This brings to mind Erv Kanemoto’s amusement at those who attributed Freddie Spencer’s winning performance in 1983 (his first world championship) to “strong reed-valve acceleration.” In fact, what was happening then was that because Spencer’s Honda NS3 Triple lacked acceleration, he was putting elevated corner speed in its place.

Rossi’s Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales was eliminated on lap 1 by a three-rider crash in which no blame or penalty has been assessed.

Danilo Petrucci, sixth, said, “I wanted to battle for the top five, and in the first part of the race the podium was definitely within reach.… But I struggled in acceleration…losing…about a tenth per lap.”

Dani Pedrosa
Dani Pedrosa was fastest on Friday but could not match the pace on raceday.Courtesy of Honda

Dani Pedrosa, fastest on Friday, never really went any faster: “Every time I touch the throttle I spin and I lose 0.2 second per acceleration exit. So then I have to recover in braking, so I’m doing the [rubber band act—fast in, slow out] all the time with the group and I cannot make any passes because I’m too far back when I arrive to the braking point.”

Brno, although exciting to watch, was a straight contest of professionalism, for the riders who intentionally gathered the most detailed predictive knowledge of tire performance through practice were the ones able to run in the first group. The rest either lacked pace or suffered excessive tire drop.