Back with a bang? Not so much, but back, and damn impressive.
There's already been some contracts finalised, getting what could be a furious dash of signings underway well before the usual mark of the European rounds. We'll discuss those tomorrow.
Danilo Petrucci missed out on the race, a broken hand not recovering in time for him to race. He'll likely miss the first three rounds.
Jorge Lorenzo would start on pole, his blistering lap early in the session unmatched by anybody else - although Marc Marquez (who started second) claimed he'd have beaten it with another lap. They were joined on the front row by the Suzuki(!) of Maverick Viñales, who backed up his superb testing form with a good showing in qualifying. Valentino Rossi started fifth, flanked by the two factory Ducatis, with Hector Barbera's Avintia bike starting eighth. The Brit core of Cal Crutchlow, Bradley Smith and Scott Redding took up the fourth row.
The front row made a great start, but Viñales was sucked back by the more powerful Yamahas and Ducatis, Andrea Dovizioso moving up to third behind his team mate Iannone in second. Rossi ran fourth, a place ahead of Marquez and Pedrosa. Lorenzo led but was under huge pressure from Iannone, with both Ducatis leapfrogging Jorge on the home straight. Unbelievable speed from the red beasts, and they pulled away accordingly. Marquez cut underneath Rossi to take fourth on lap four.
The Ducatis led comfortably, but decided to make things difficult for themselves by pushing past each other. No damage done, but they took chunks out of each other's advantages. At least, until Iannone lost the bike and crashed out of second. A great weekend ruined.
Crutchlow joined him soon afterwards, crashing out the following lap.
Maverick recovered well from his poor start, keeping close tabs on Dani Pedrosa in fifth, while at the front the fight between the Ducatis had allowed Lorenzo to close up, taking the lead back two laps later. The Yamaha was much quicker through the corners, but the pure power of the Ducati was keeping Dovizioso involved - unlike Loris Baz and Stefan Bradl, who crashed out.
With ten laps to go, Rossi was starting to lose ground on the front three, seemingly settling for fourth. Lorenzo was starting to gap Dovi slightly, but Marquez was getting close to Dovi. Positions were maintained though - Lorenzo would gain time in the middle of the lap, Dovi would catch it back on the straights. That was, until there were four laps left, and a mistake from Dovi allowed Marquez into second.
That was all the encouragement Lorenzo needed, and he was gone. Dovi looked flustered too, falling into the patented Rossi trap. Vale looked keen, and was all over the back of Dovi - until the home straight to start the last lap, when Dovi powered past Marquez to reclaim second. Rossi couldn't keep up, and it was a battle between Dovi and Marquez for second. Marquez was riding right on the edge, hard on the back of the Ducati, taking second on the last turn but running wide, letting Dovi back in for second. Rossi couldn't take advantage of the Marquez mistake, ending fourth.
Pedrosa stayed ahead of Maverick for fifth, Pol Espargaro was a comfortable seventh, ahead of Smith, with Barbera and Redding rounding out the top ten.
|1||25||99||Jorge LORENZO||SPA||Movistar Yamaha MotoGP||Yamaha||167.1||42'28.452|
|2||20||4||Andrea DOVIZIOSO||ITA||Ducati Team||Ducati||167||2.019|
|3||16||93||Marc MARQUEZ||SPA||Repsol Honda Team||Honda||167||2.287|
|4||13||46||Valentino ROSSI||ITA||Movistar Yamaha MotoGP||Yamaha||167||2.387|
|5||11||26||Dani PEDROSA||SPA||Repsol Honda Team||Honda||166.2||14.083|
|6||10||25||Maverick VIÑALES||SPA||Team SUZUKI ECSTAR||Suzuki||166.1||15.423|
|7||9||44||Pol ESPARGARO||SPA||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||Yamaha||165.9||18.629|
|8||8||38||Bradley SMITH||GBR||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||Yamaha||165.9||18.652|
|9||7||8||Hector BARBERA||SPA||Avintia Racing||Ducati||165.8||21.16|
|10||6||45||Scott REDDING||GBR||OCTO Pramac Yakhnich||Ducati||165.6||24.435|
|11||5||41||Aleix ESPARGARO||SPA||Team SUZUKI ECSTAR||Suzuki||164.8||35.847|
|12||4||50||Eugene LAVERTY||IRL||Aspar Team MotoGP||Ducati||164.5||41.756|
|13||3||19||Alvaro BAUTISTA||SPA||Aprilia Racing Team Gresini||Aprilia||164.4||41.932|
|14||2||43||Jack MILLER||AUS||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS||Honda||164.4||41.982|
|15||1||53||Tito RABAT||SPA||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS||Honda||163.6||54.953|
Lorenzo Baldassarri and Remy Gardner missed out on the opening race of the season. Baldassarri dislocated both shoulders at the end of qualifying, while Gardner dropped his bike in the warmup and couldn't get it fixed.
The start of the Moto2 season was one huge hot mess, with jump starts from Johann Zarco, Sam Lowes, Marcel Schrotter and Alex Rins throwing the entire field off, including Takaaki Nakagami and Robin Mulhauser. Franco Morbidelli somehow avoided a penalty, despite probably jumping more than anybody else.
Jonas Folger left all this in his dust though, taking a huge lead after three laps before his Dynavolt bike decided it had had enough for the weekend, going from underneath him and taking him out of the race.
Morbidelli and Tom Luthi led the field, putting together a classic battle. Sandro Cortese and Simone Corsi were having a similar battle for third, with Danny Kent sat in sixth on his return to Moto2. He was part of a group of very accomplished riders, ahead of Domi Aegerter, Xavier Simeon and Ratthapark Wilairot.
Morbidelli and Luthi traded the lead several times over the course of the race, neither man letting the other get away. Words can't do it justice, just two riders going at it in a clean, fair fight. Further back, Rins and Lowes clawed their way back into the points on the back of Simeon retiring and Xavi Vierge crashing out.
With five laps remaining, the starts of Morbidelli and Cortese were suddenly investigated, and with the result of the investigation to be announced post-race, it meant what they did on the track was pretty much pointless. Morbidelli was given a 20 second penalty, which was fair, but a bit harsh after the great race he ran.
Luthi took the lead on the last lap, making the race win a little less controversial.
Luis Salom put in a great ride to take second from Corsi at the death. Hafizh Syahrin took a very good fourth, with Aegerter finishing ahead of Kent in 5th. Morbidelli was a penalised seventh, ahead of Rins who rode very well to make it back up to eighth, with Lowes finishing a very respectable ninth.
Luca Marini proved he's more than just Valentino Rossi's half brother with a very assured 10th place finish.
|1||25||12||Thomas LUTHI||SWI||Garage Plus Interwetten||Kalex||160.4||40'14.293|
|2||20||39||Luis SALOM||SPA||SAG Team||Kalex||159.8||9.61|
|3||16||24||Simone CORSI||ITA||Speed Up Racing||Speed Up||159.8||9.665|
|4||13||55||Hafizh SYAHRIN||MAL||Petronas Raceline Malaysia||Kalex||159.5||13.558|
|5||11||77||Dominique AEGERTER||SWI||CarXpert Interwetten||Kalex||159.3||16.064|
|6||10||52||Danny KENT||GBR||Leopard Racing||Kalex||159.3||16.114|
|7||9||21||Franco MORBIDELLI||ITA||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS||Kalex||160.4||20.047|
|8||8||40||Alex RINS||SPA||Paginas Amarillas HP 40||Kalex||159.1||20.17|
|9||7||22||Sam LOWES||GBR||Federal Oil Gresini Moto2||Kalex||158.9||22.019|
|10||6||10||Luca MARINI||ITA||Forward Team||Kalex||158.8||24.249|
|11||5||44||Miguel OLIVEIRA||POR||Leopard Racing||Kalex||158.8||24.254|
|12||4||5||Johann ZARCO||FRA||Ajo Motorsport||Kalex||158.8||24.57|
|13||3||14||Ratthapark WILAIROT||THA||IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia||Kalex||158.7||25.664|
|14||2||30||Takaaki NAKAGAMI||JPN||IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia||Kalex||158.6||26.992|
|15||1||11||Sandro CORTESE||GER||Dynavolt Intact GP||Kalex||159.8||29.736|
First blood to Niccolo Antonelli. In a tight-fought race from flag to flag, the Honda-powered Italian pipped KTM's Brad Binder by no more than a tyre's width at the finish line.
In truth, any one of the leading eight could have taken the victory, with the usual sort of madness we're used to from Moto3 striking early. Pole sitter Romano Fenati was sitting pretty and looking dangerous until he ran wide at the start of the last lap, eventually falling to sixth before climbing back to fourth at the line. Enea Bastianini was also involved, but could only end fifth after struggling to find speed down the straight. He was one place ahead of newcomer Nicolo Bulega, Fenati's team mate leading at several points before losing traction with a lap to go.
Moto3 ride of the day goes to Francesco Bagnaia though, somehow managing to put a Mahindra on the podium.
Maria Herrera finished one place out of the points in 16th, with Britain's John McPhee a very lowly 27th.
|2||20||41||Brad BINDER||RSA||Red Bull KTM Ajo||KTM||152||0.007|
|3||16||21||Francesco BAGNAIA||ITA||ASPAR Mahindra Team Moto3||Mahindra||152||0.148|
|4||13||5||Romano FENATI||ITA||SKY Racing Team VR46||KTM||152||0.435|
|5||11||33||Enea BASTIANINI||ITA||Gresini Racing Moto3||Honda||152||0.606|
|6||10||8||Nicolo BULEGA||ITA||SKY Racing Team VR46||KTM||152||0.625|
|7||9||9||Jorge NAVARRO||SPA||Estrella Galicia 0,0||Honda||152||0.674|
|8||8||11||Livio LOI||BEL||RW Racing GP BV||Honda||151.9||1.71|
|9||7||65||Philipp OETTL||GER||Schedl GP Racing||KTM||151.5||8.611|
|10||6||84||Jakub KORNFEIL||CZE||Drive M7 SIC Racing Team||Honda||151.3||10.947|
|12||4||36||Joan MIR||SPA||Leopard Racing||KTM||151.2||12.38|
|13||3||20||Fabio QUARTARARO||FRA||Leopard Racing||KTM||151.2||12.401|
|14||2||64||Bo BENDSNEYDER||NED||Red Bull KTM Ajo||KTM||151.2||12.726|
|15||1||44||Aron CANET||SPA||Estrella Galicia 0,0||Honda||151.2||12.784|
Ride of the day
It's hard to look past Jorge Lorenzo, who needed just one chance to make the race his and took it. But that's not surprising. I'm giving this week's award to Sam Lowes. Foiled by a jump start, he ended up off the on-screen graphic after his drive through penalty, but still finished ninth and set the lap record at the end. It's going to be a good year for him on that Kalex.
Come back tomorrow for a roundup of the weekend's news and action.