After leading all put one of the practice sessions and securing a brilliant pole position, Dani Pedrosa was perfectly poised to take his first win of 2017.
When the lights went out in Jerez de la Frontera on Sunday afternoon, no-one came close to the Samurai’s dominance.
Pedrosa got a great start, leading into turn 1 and from there it was nothing but clear track ahead for the Spaniard, opening up a gap of 0.7 seconds on the first lap alone. Securing the “gentleman’s set” of pole position, the race fastest lap and the win might have looked relatively easy from the way he ran off at the front, but in reality he had to be pushing on every single lap; “it was easy to make a mistake, to lose the front, so it was a matter of staying on the limit without going over it”. Dani’s consistency over the 27 lap race was outstanding; setting the race fastest lap on lap 3 and staying firmly in the 1’40s, dropping to 1’41 only three times.
“I was able to push until the last two laps and then I say ok, second place” – Marc Marquez
Pedrosa’s closest rival in Jerez was his team-mate Marc Marquez who stayed in second for most of the race but was ultimately unable to match his compatriots’ pace. The gap to Pedrosa fluctuated throughout the race, dropping to 0.9 briefly but Marc deemed pushing to try to catch Dani just too much of a risk and eventually finished over 6 seconds behind; “I was able to push until the last two laps and then I say ok, second place” as he was being limited by the front tyre, with both Repsol riders stating it was too soft for them, despite being the hardest compound.
Making it an all-Spanish podium was Jorge Lorenzo, getting his first top 3 finish with Ducati at a track he adores, a perfect 30th birthday present! The Spaniard rode well and made good progress in the early stages. The familiarity of the circuit undoubtedly helped Jorge this weekend, which combined with more precious kilometres on the Desmo means he’s starting to ride in a more natural way. The use of the rear brake is still something he’s not used to but to get the Ducati to turn it’s necessary and with time it will become second nature.
And the more natural everything starts to feel for Jorge, the faster he will go; the change in the way he is riding compared to the start of the year is clear, with the trademark Lorenzo lean well and truly back. He impressed in a couple of the practice session in Jerez and while he was still over 14 seconds behind Pedrosa at the chequered flag, it’s a step in the right direction and with team-mate Andrea Dovizioso finishing 5th at a track he really struggles at, the signs for Ducati are positive.
Aside from the brilliant podium performances, the best of the rest has to be Johann Zarco and not just because he finished 4th. Are we sure he’s a rookie? His first four races have been nothing short of incredible; his confidence on the bike and around other riders makes it impossible to look away. I expected him to adapt to MotoGP well; his style is very similar to Lorenzo so the Yamaha M1 is a good fit, but the sheer determination he shows on track is brilliant to see from a rookie, even if it doesn’t always please those he passes.
In the second lap of the race he passed three riders; Vinales, Crutchlow and Iannone… none of them “easy passes” (as if there’s any such thing in MotoGP) but he cut past them as though he’d been in MotoGP for years. He didn’t stop there though, setting his sights on the World Champion Marc Marquez. It took a couple of attempts to make it work but once in second, he was able to hold Marc off for a couple of laps before he started to be limited by the medium front tyre. With the next race being at home in Le Mans there’ll be even more focus on the Tech 3 rookie but the start of 2017 has been brilliant from Johann and I can’t wait to see what comes next!
But while the Tech 3 Yamaha performed well, with Jonas Folger also put in a good ride to finish 8th (his main area of improvement needs to be trying to hold positions early on), it wasn’t the same story for the Factory Yamahas. On Saturday, both riders were having issues with the lack of grip, which in turn caused problems with corner speed, with wheelspin again proving a common concern at Jerez.
Despite a strong performance in the cooler morning warmup on Sunday for Vinales, when the temperatures rose Yamaha’s problems returned. Maverick struggled with the front saying “I felt like I was going to crash in nearly every corner”, while for Valentino the pre-season lack of front feedback returned combined with wheelspin and a lot of vibration in the latter stages. The Italian and his team had taken a gamble with their setup after a disappointing warmup, but unlike their familiar Sunday magic, in Jerez the risk wasn’t met with reward.
Conditions aside, Dani Pedrosa looks to be back to his best.
Jerez’s configuration normally makes it useful in terms of setup for the next stage of the season, it has a little bit of everything and usually, if you can make it work in Jerez it’s a good sign for the next races. But with unique track conditions, thanks to high temperatures and a surface that’s over 12 years old, while it’s still useful for data, having a “bad” race at the Andalucian circuit doesn’t signal further misfortune to come. For Honda, more time with this bike and learning its quirks is undoubtedly helping but Yamaha’s issues played a part in their dominance of the Spanish track. Lack of grip isn’t going to be a problem for the next race at Le Mans as it’s recently been resurfaced and the temperatures aren’t going to reach Jerez levels; knowing our luck it’ll probably rain.
But tricky conditions aside, Dani Pedrosa looks to be back to his best; Austin showed he was able to take the fight to his team-mate, while Jerez demonstrated the pace is there. There were some big changes for Dani at the start of 2017 with a new crew chief in Giacomo Guidotti and the inclusion of Sete Gibernau in the garage (who along with his obvious technical knowledge proving invaluable, appears to be bringing a lot of humour to that side of the box). But there’s also changes to Dani’s mentality with the triple World Champion saying that he’s now more conscious of the way he’s riding “you have to make it happen more (as you get older), it doesn’t come that easy, you have to work more on your conscious side.. it’s much more fun now when things are happening”.
The fact that it’s more enjoyable was clearly visible on the podium when the emotions proved overwhelming, bringing Dani to tears. And if there’s one image I’ll take away from this race, it’s that; the sheer joy of winning combined with the respect between what used to be the fiercest of rivals as Jorge pulled him into a hug.. that’s MotoGP.
The 3000th Grand Prix race was one plagued by low grip, with riders crashing out and Jack Miller taking out his frustrations on both Alvaro Bautista and Alvaro’s bike (leading to a 1000€ fine), it saw some brilliant overtakes and some very close saves. But it’s Dani Pedrosa who’ll go down as the winner of this landmark race; which is his 30th in MotoGP and with the top 4 in the championship separated by just 10 points, it’s anybody’s guess what the next 14 races have in store.