Sunday kicked off with a bang last weekend in Jerez with an astonishing battle for first place going down to the very last corner at Turn 13 with the likes of Fenati, Mir and Canet being joined by Platinum Bay Real Estate riders Ramirez and Binder.
Both riders were showing immense progress throughout the weekend, while the hindrance of a wet FP1 left Binder 11th and Ramirez 23rd the pair soon upped their game in FP2 and were able to remain in the top 10 for the rest of the weekend with qualifying in 5th and 10th respectively. The race also proved rewarding as both riders kept with the lead group from Turn 1 and continued to maintain the pace as they edged closer towards the front of the pack, overtaking the likes of Antonelli and championship leader Mir and soon were eyeing up third position as they closed in on Canet – Binder fronting the attack as Ramirez picks up the pieces, the pair seemingly inseparable until Binder’s gutsy move off of the back straight launched him into first place with Ramirez soon on his back wheel as the Spaniard claimed fourth from Canet, and then third from Martin at the end of the start/finish straight.
The straights were hotspots for the Real Estate boys as Binder yet again took the lead from Fenati, this time bringing his team mate with him. However Fenati soon fired back, these scuffles lead the three frontrunners to be hounded by the group behind, making it a 12-way battle for first with Andrea Migno at the rear. The race proved too good to be true for Binder however as his ever increasing excitableness appeared too much as an attempt of an outside overtake of Fenati at the final corner with 13 laps to go resulted in a lowside, and while able to rejoin the race Binder remained out for the count regarding a possible win as well as Rider of the Round as his hubris appeared to be too much, however this proves promising for the rest of the season and I personally hope to see more from Darryn.
This week’s Rider of the Round has to go to Ramirez. The Spaniard showed undeniable intelligence on Sunday behind his teammate and even after the mishap of Binder’s he was able to keep with the lead group and often fight for the rostrum, with the final lap proving especially difficult – as last laps go, this truly was a groundbreaker – Ramriez remained calm and was rewarded with a very respectful 4th place, a phenomenal achievement. Every rider in the lead group deserves merit for their efforts in Jerez, although it is both Platinum Bay Real Estate riders that shone when it came to race day; I look forward to seeing more involvement when it comes to podium battles from both Ramirez and Binder in future races.
Moto2 continued the drama-filled theme on Sunday as the world witnessed Jerez to be a chink in the armour of title leader Franco Morbidelli, the Italian suffered a lowside at Turn 9, his first in-race error this season. Morbidelli had been dominant until Jerez, winning consecutively in Qatar, Argentina and Texas. This mistake however allowed teammate Alex Marquez to shine in the spotlight, the younger Marquez ruling the Spanish round from start to finish, placing P1 in every session except for Sunday’s warm up. The two Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS riders shared overtake after overtake before Franco’s unfortunate demise with 17 laps to go. From then on it was nothing but clear track for Marquez as he sailed to a much-awaited victory, his first since 2014 when the Spaniard faced Jack Miller in the Moto3 title fight.
The theme of unexpected riders making their way to the top 5 continued in Moto2 as rookie Francesco Bagnaia climbed his way to the second rostrum place, battling with the likes of Pasini and Aegerter, while Miguel Oliveira faced redemption after his blip at Circuit of the Americas by returning to the podium at Jerez with third place. While the interest of the race rested on Marquez and Bagnaia, Luthi kept cool during an unfavourable weekend and finished with a top 10 result of 8th place and, due to Morbidelli’s crash, remains a challenger of the championship with now only having an 11 point gap to the Italian. Despite Luthi’s championship hopes and Marquez’s much deserved win, Rider of the Round for Moto2 in Jerez has to go to the SKY VR46 rider Bagnaia, the rookie not only achieved a podium within the first 4 races of the season, but the Italian gained a noteworthy second place, all the while adjusting to a new bike and class, as well as a brand new team in Rossi’s camp as the VR46 crew headed to Moto2 for this season, making this podium an admirable feat by the entire team.
The Spanish round truly lived up to its name in MotoGP as the crowds witnessed Spaniards take every step of the podium, however a certain Vinales appeared nowhere in sight when it came to the race leaders, nor was the title leader involved either as both factory Yamahas failed to place within the top 5 for this round. While Vinales scored 6th place by the chequered flag, all questions were fired at The Doctor who was seen scraping the final top 10 position. It looks like Rossi’s luck has run out when it comes to Jerez as last year’s first place deemed him a favourite this time around, but it just wasn’t the case.
While Yamaha was struggling in Jerez the Repsol Hondas thrived with a 1-2 podium, with Pedrosa utterly dominating the time sheets throughout the weekend and Marquez not far behind. However it was the man on the last step of the podium that shocked fans as Jorge Lorenzo claimed his first ever podium on board the Desmosedici. After a disappointing start to the season, it appears that the man in red has finally found his rhythm as he was able to improve times throughout the weekend. The only result that didn’t show this was his 8th position on the grid after quailfying, however Lorenzo didn’t place outside of the top 10 the entire weekend, an obvious improvement for the team as having both riders finish in the top 5 is not only deserving of all the praise they have received since Sunday, but can also be deadly if both riders keep this pace for the season as they could very easily play a part in the championship later on in the season.
Another rider worthy of noting on Sunday was the formidable Frenchman Johann Zarco, it appeared that Rossi’s words after the incident of COTA had no affect as Zarco made himself known within the first few laps as he tussled with numerous riders, including The Doctor, and stormed to take 4th place after a small battle with Crutchlow lead the Brit to crash with 22 laps to go. It seems that Ducati aren’t the only ones capable of causing mishap in this championship, and I believe I can speak for most when I say that we are all looking forward to see what Zarco can achieve this year. However it is Jorge Lorenzo who takes Rider of the Round for the MotoGP class, with such a rocky start to the season it is truly commendable to see Jorge not only take form on the Ducati, but also take to the podium once again.
Jerez also bore witness to the beginning of the 2017 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup as the circuit held the first and second races of the season for the future stars of MotoGP.
Title favourites for this year included 2016 runner up Aleix Viu, with the likes of Sasaki and Pulkkinen moving onto Moto3, it seemed that Viu was a shoe-in for the opening rounds, however it was Ai Ogura who took pole in qualifying ahead of Salac and newbie Kazuki Masaki, with Viu placing 4th on the grid. The Japanese riders both showed strength at Jerez placing second and third in Race 1, Ogura being pipped to first place by Scotsman Rory Skinner as a crash by Walid Soppe saw the race red flagged in the closing laps. Skinner proved strong in the first race, gaining 8 places from his start in 9th place and battling relentlessly with both Japanese riders, and so became a favourite for Race 2. However a mistake on track lead to a collision with an unassuming Sean Dylan Kelly, causing both riders to crash and bringing an untimely end to their weekend.
With Skinner out of the running, Viu saw his title chances and fought with everything he had against rookie Can Oncu and Filip Salac, the Czech rider playing smart in both races as he achieved a respectable 4th place in race 1 and astonishingly stole second place from Oncu, the Turk who crashed in Race 1 and finished in 18th because of it exceeded the expectations of a rookie in such a competitive class and constantly fought for the win against the ever-experienced Viu.
While Viu and Skinner’s race wins were admirable, and the rookie likes of Masaki and Oncu proved to have phenomenal starts to their rookie careers, it is Salac who takes the first Rider of the Round for the Rookies Cup, his fourth and second awarded him with second place in the championship, on par with Ogura and just 3 points behind title leader Viu, and as any Rookies fan can tell you: consistency is key, and with how smart Salac rode in Jerez, his consistency will do wonders this season.
Next round will see the top 3 classes head to Le Mans, with Rookies returning in June for Assen. Who will come out on top in France?