After all the drama of mostly dry practice, with everyone classically struggling for grip and tire life on a bumpy, greasy surface in hot conditions, it rained at the Czech GP, Brno. Just before the start, series leader and pole sitter Marc Marquez decided on a soft rear rain tire (the only one of the top eight riders to do so).

“Today I felt like I wanted to make a race, I wanted to push and take a risk (to) try to win the race, but this time it was the incorrect (choice),” Marquez said after the race, “because the rear tire was spinning a lot and I was losing many positions.”

Not just ‘many’; Marquez lost ten positions in one lap from that disastrous tire choice. Fate had other plans for him.

“I went into the box a little earlier but it was the only chance that I had and I went out with the slick tires,” the 24-year-old explained. “It was still very wet and I nearly crashed three or four times in the first lap especially.”

dani pedrosa motogp brno race action
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda Team, Brno Grand Prix of Czech Republic 2017Courtesy of Repsol Honda Team

The man is an ace at making the best of disaster, for soon, on a drying line, he was lapping between ten and twenty seconds faster than the field. His first two wet-tire laps were 2:13 and 2:16, but on slicks he was quickly doing 1:58s. He had set pole in the dry at 1:54.981, so this was only four seconds a lap slower in the most dangerous of conditions – with slicks on mixed wet/dry pavement.

By Lap 5 Marquez had made up 15 places in a classic barracuda-through-minnows drive. The continuing deficiencies of the Honda in top speed, acceleration, and stability have forced Marquez to make a personal style of miraculously staying on the bike when it is deep in the zone of “maybe I can save it.” His qualifying lap was a slap-stick series of near crashes – “He’s down! He’s up! He’s away!”

maverick vinales motogp brno race action
Maverick Vinales, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, Brno Grand Prix of Czech Republic 2017Courtesy of Movistar Yamhaa

Meanwhile, the irrelevant rest of the race were pitting to switch to their dry bikes. Early leader Jorge Lorenzo (three laps) steamed in to find his ‘B’ bike on rain tires, not slicks. This put him down for the count – he would finish 15th.

Valentino Rossi led L4 and Johann Zarco L5, but by L6 all drama had drained away to leave Marquez to load his favorite CDs into the entertainment console and engage cruise control. On L6 Marquez led by 11 seconds, then by 19.1 a lap later. A workable lead! He extended it a bit to 22.7 by L9, held a 20-second reserve until L16, then let things unwind comfortably to win by 12.438 seconds over teammate Dani Pedrosa.

”I was expecting this kind of race, wet to dry, then it was raining all day, then stopping, so I thought it would be like this for the race, even when I was on the grid,” said the man who registered his 150th career podium. “It was a bit clearer but I thought it would rain again.”

He regrets having done one more lap on wets, but weather services, with all their instrumentation, can’t say what tires to choose or when to change them. Pedrosa did what he could with the cards dealt.

valentino rossi motogp brno race action
Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, Brno Grand Prix of Czech Republic 2017Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

Third was a delighted Maverick Vinales, who had been despondent through practice at finding no grip and no solution. With the exception of Rossi, the top six in qualifying were all on “pointed” bikes (those that work with a stop-and-go style). Vinales finally decided to hope for a miraculous ‘step’ in morning warm-up – but instead it rained. He made his bike switch on L5, losing only seven places.

“Luckily on the grid the sun started to come out,” Vinales said. “On the rain tire I was feeling good, but I was already thinking after two laps maybe I should go in but there were too many people, so maybe I went in a lap too late. Warming up the slicks was difficult but then the bike felt good again.”

Fourth, the man never to be counted out, came Rossi. His tire change had come late, on L6, losing him 11 places.

“Usually in the first lap with the slick, on the wet, we are a bit in trouble with the Yamaha,” Rossi said. “So I try to push as much as possible on the wet because I was strong, to have a small advantage to use [for] the first lap on the slick.”

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Cal Crutchlow, LCR Honda Team, Brno Grand Prix of Czech Republic 2017Courtesy of LCR Honda

Cal Crutchlow, who finished fifth, suffered a possible vertebral fracture just before qualifying.

“I’m sat there in a waiting-room, triage, saw a doctor…then I went up to the CT scan and there was no one there!” last year’s winner said. “So I left and came back for qualifying.”

What would you have done? He went out and qualified fifth. In the first laps of the race Crutchlow knew Marquez was up to something.

"I knew he was pitting because he never fought back! That’s not Marc’s nature and as we went into the last corner I looked across and I could see him (pitting). I thought, ‘You bastard!’ Because I knew he’d outfoxed us again, same as in Sachsenring last year.”

andrea dovizioso motogp brno race action
Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati Team, Brno Grand Prix of Czech Republic 2017Courtesy of Ducati Team

Crutchlow is valuable to Honda not only as a two-time race winner, but as a rider providing valuable feedback.

“There aren't many people in the championship that have my experience of riding different bikes,” he said. “And I understand the bikes I ride a lot better than other people. Just because I'm not as fast as them doesn't mean I don't understand them. It's just sometimes I can't do what they do.”

He has often said he can’t work out how Marquez can make the sudden braking-to-turning transitions that he does. Most interesting are Crutchlow’s comments on Honda’s now years-long problems with acceleration, top speed, and even stability.

“We're struggling out of the corners really,” he added. “It's more to do with the grip and the wheelie. We said this numerous times and it doesn't seem that it's changed so much. We're constantly saving the bike in the middle of the corner, with the rear coming round, and we're saving it going in with the front. The time gap between releasing the brake and waiting to open the throttle is a long time because the thing is sliding. But Marc is so good at it because of his flat track (experience).”

danilo petrucci motogp brno race action
Danilo Petrucci, Octo Pramac Racing, Brno Grand Prix of Czech Republic 2017Courtesy of Octo Pramac Racing

The fact that this situation has continued this long – 2015, ‘16, and now ’17 – suggests three basic possibilities:

  1. Like the idea that Michelin really don't know how to make a better front tire is the idea that what we are seeing is the very best Honda can do. Can that be the case?
  2. That Marquez's proven willingness to ride lap after lap in a semi-crashing state of control is good enough to lead the championship again, so why mess with it? Call this "the Yvon DuHamel effect."
  3. That Honda, like the others, have serious budgetary problems, bringing to mind the old NASA saying "No bucks? Then no Buck Rogers." This is not an image they seek to project.

The MotoGP circus lands in nearby Austria later this week. Let’s all keep a close eye on the weather, and pray we get a chance to see some poker played before the lights go green and the race launches around the Red Bull Ring.

brno grand prix of czech republic podium
Brno Grand Prix of Czech Republic 2017 podium: Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, and Maverick VinalesCourtesy of Repsol Honda

Race Results

Pos. Rider Num. Nation Team Time/Gap
1 MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA Repsol Honda Team 44'15.974
2 PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA Repsol Honda Team 12.438
3 VINALES Maverick 25 SPA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 18.135
4 ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 20.466
5 CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR LCR Honda 20.892
6 DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA Ducati Team 23.259
7 PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA Octo Pramac Racing 24.079
8 ESPARGARO Aleix 41 SPA Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 30.559
9 ESPARGARO Pol 44 SPA Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 30.754
10 FOLGER Jonas 94 GER Monster Yamaha Tech3 33.236
11 RINS Alex 42 SPA Team Suzuki Ecstar 33.290
12 ZARCO Johann 5 FRA Monster Yamaha Tech3 34.595
13 ABRAHAM Karel 17 CZE Pull&Bear Aspar Team 34.697
14 MILLER Jack 43 AUS Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS 38.062
15 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA Ducati Team 40.100
16 REDDING Scott 45 GBR Octo Pramac Racing 44.376
17 RABAT Tito 53 SPA Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS 45.454
18 LOWES Sam 22 GBR Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 53.976
19 IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA Team Suzuki Ecstar 1'23.346
20 BARBERA Hector 8 SPA Reale Avintia Racing 1 lap
21 BAZ Loris 76 FRA Reale Avintia Racing 7 laps
22 BAUTISTA Alvaro 19 SPA Pull&Bear Aspar Team 10 laps

Rider Standings

Pos. Rider Num. Nation Points Team
1 MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA 154 Repsol Honda Team
2 VINALES Maverick 25 SPA 140 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
3 DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 133 Ducati Team
4 ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA 132 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
5 PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA 123 Repsol Honda Team
6 ZARCO Johann 5 FRA 88 Monster Yamaha Tech3
7 FOLGER Jonas 94 GER 77 Monster Yamaha Tech3
8 PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA 75 Octo Pramac Racing
9 CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR 75 LCR Honda
10 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 66 Ducati Team

More Photos From Brno Grand Prix of Czech Republic 2017:

aleix espargaro motogp brno race action
Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, Brno Grand Prix of Czech Republic 2017Courtesy of Aprilia Racing Team Gresini
pol espargaro motogp brno race action
Pol Espargaro, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Brno Grand Prix of Czech Republic 2017Courtesy of KTM Factory Racing
jonas folger motogp brno race action
Jonas Folger, Monster Yamaha Tech3, Brno Grand Prix of Czech Republic 2017Courtesy of Monster Yamaha Tech3

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