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MotoGP Sepang: Dovizioso takes flag for ninth different winner of season

In another race affected by the weather, Andrea Dovizioso became the 9th different winner in MotoGP this season, with his second win in the premier class, 7 years after the first at Donington Park in 2009.

Starting from pole position Dovi had a great chance to convert that into a win, particularly if it was a wet race. Earlier in the day, Paolo Ciabatti had said that they were at their most competitive this weekend in the rain and that “if it is wet we wouldn’t complain”. Well, the weather was on Ducati’s side with heavy rain arriving after the Moto2 race, which caused an initial delay in the opening of the pitlane to allow conditions to improve before the riders headed out.

Further torrential rain while the riders were on the grid led to a delay in the start time and the race being reduced by one lap to 19, with the riders being sent back to pitlane to wait it out. After again returning to the grid, there was another delay after numerous riders complained to Safety Officer Loris Capirossi about standing water around the track. The delay gave some time for a last minute tyre change, although most stayed with their first choice, with everyone other than Yonny Hernandez, who chose the soft, running the medium front wet, and the medium rear, while Aleix Espargaro and Hiroshi Aoyama ran the soft rear. Eventually, the weather had eased and the riders were finally ready for lights out.

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Jorge Lorenzo got a great start off the line from third and led into turn one, before Marc Marquez swept around the outside to take the lead, with Dovizioso also making a move on the Yamaha rider for the second position. Things got worse for Lorenzo, as he was pushed further back behind numerous riders, while Dovizioso took the lead at turn seven. Valentino Rossi squeezed into second two corners later, with Andrea Iannone and Jorge Lorenzo coming into contact with each other as they jostled for position. At the second to last corner, Dovi ran wide, giving Rossi the lead for the first time in the race with Iannone following him through into second.

But Iannone, who returned this weekend from injury, didn’t stay behind Rossi for long as he took the lead on the run down into turn 12 on lap two. At the start of the third lap, Aleix Espargaro squandered his good start as he ran wide at turn one, dropping the Suzuki rider from 5th to 13th. At this point in the race, conditions were still very tricky, with visibility a definite problem for Rossi who was tucked in behind Iannone with just a red blur peeking through the spray. After the race, Rossi said that being behind Iannone was actually giving him problems with holding the throttle because the spray was making his hands and gloves so wet. The conditions weren’t deterring Cal Crutchlow though who moved into 5th past Lorenzo and set the fastest lap of the race so far.

On lap 5 Rossi slipped up the inside of Iannone at turn 4 to take the lead for a fleeting moment before the two continued to swap positions as Iannone fought back every time. Behind them, Crutchlow had passed Marc Marquez for 4th, while Dovizioso was the first rider to drop his lap times into the 2’13 mark.

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Rossi took the lead at turn 1 on lap 6 and this time was able to keep it until turn 13 when Iannone got back in front. The Ducati rider maintained his position for five laps, until Rossi again got the better of his fellow Italian, passing Iannone on the brakes into turn 9. On lap 12, Crutchlow crashed at turn 2, while Dovizioso moved into second past his team-mate, before Marquez also fell off his Honda at turn 11 with a front-end washout, although the Spaniard was able to rejoin. Iannone was the next to falter as he crashed out at turn 9 on lap 13, leaving the battle for the victory solely to Rossi and Dovizioso. Lorenzo had moved into third thanks to the crashes of those in front of him, but he was still very distant from the front two and didn’t pose a threat.

With 5 laps remaining Rossi ran wide at turn 1, allowing Dovizioso to neatly swoop into the lead and there the Italian stayed. Rossi was having some visible issues, which he later attributed to his front tyre not performing as well on the drying track and Dovizioso was able to pull out an impressive gap on his compatriot, despite stating after the race that he had experience problems with his own front tyre since the start.

Dovi now had the victory within his grasp and the Ducati garage could barely watch as they crossed their fingers and prayed he would make it safely to the chequered flag. As he exited the last corner for the run down to the line, his team cheered him on hanging from the pitwall, as the Italian punched the air in delight at winning his second MotoGP race.

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Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo followed him home in second and third, giving Yamaha an important double podium as they look to close down Honda in both the team and manufacturers championship ahead of the last race in Valencia.

In 4th and 5th the Avintia riders of Hector Barbera and Loris Baz put in a fantastic performance for their team and made it a double celebration for Ducati, with Barbera getting his best result in MotoGP to date and Baz having something to celebrate after an incredibly difficult season.

Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales followed the Avintia duo home in 6th after a difficult race in a weekend they’d earlier performed very strongly in, while Jack Miller was the top Honda with his 8th placed finish, as Marquez crossed the line back in 11th.

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Dovi is something of a rarity in MotoGP in that everybody both likes and respects him massively, and it was clear to see that even the other riders were pleased it was him that became the 9th winner of the season as they congratulated him after the chequered flag. For the Ducati team, it’s an important victory (evident by Gigi Dall’Igna’s exuberant celebrations) because although Iannone ended their drought in Austria, Dovi had been incredibly disappointed as he felt that race had been his to win, so after four years of endless hard work developing the Desmo you see now, he finally has his reward.

After the race, the emotion for Dovi was clear to see and speaking about the win he emphasised how much it meant “I never give up, I take some risks.. really happy to get this result” and admitting that the last few laps were “very hard for me because I have to win, have to win, don’t make a mistake, blah blah blah” (his actual words), although the last lap was special for him as his girlfriend and friends were at turn 1 and he was able to see them, which made him so emotional that he cried for the rest of the lap. Speaking about that feeling he described it as something you can’t experience in normal life and said: “this is why we struggle here, we get hurt, we try to win the race because it’s something very special, we are lucky to feel that.”

He also pointed out that if he hadn’t had 3 races with 0 pts, through no fault of his own, at the start of the year, he would’ve been able to fight in the top 3 of the championship, which has him determined to make a further step forward next year so that they can fight for more than just race wins.

Of course, 2017 starts after the final race at Valencia in just two weeks time, but will we see a 10th MotoGP winner next time out, or will the Italian with the two Stallions flanking his helmet be able to win again?

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