Extraordinary conditions made for an extraordinary afternoon at Valencia for the last race of the 2018 season – as rains struck the main race with such a vengeance that it had to be red-flagged.
By then a number of riders were already down and out, including pole qualifier Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) and 2018 champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda), leaving just 16 starters to take part in a 14-lap sprint, the first race doing nothing but determine the starting order.
By the end of it, for the first time in decades, there was not a single Honda or Yamaha on the top-three podium, and a jubilant Red Bull KTM team was celebrating not just a double top-ten finish, but a first podium in the premier class … on a day when the Austrian marque won all three rain-troubled races.
Victory, a 50th for Ducati and his first at the Ricardo Tormo circuit, went to a assured Andrea Dovizioso, who had been in the lead of the first race when it was stopped.
With those results taken back one lap, however, it was Ecstar Suzuki’s Alex Rins starting from pole, after he’d dominated the first 13 laps of the first outing until Dovi took over; and Rins who took second place, for a second successive race. It was the first time since 1994 that Suzuki had taken four podiums in a row.
With Ducati wild card Michele Pirro fourth and the retiring Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa fifth, it was a second successive disastrous race for Valentino Rossi. The Movistar Yamaha rider had a brilliant run through from 16th on the grid to third in the first outing, and was up to second midway through the restart when he had a second successive crash from a podium position. He remounted to finish 13th for two points, but his third overall in the championship was already safe, with the challenging Vinales not able to make the restart.
Dovizioso said: “The first race I didn’t have a lot of feeling, and as it rained more it was very dangerous. For the restart we made a small change and had new tyres, and I could push as much as I wanted … more than the other competitors.”
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Idemitsu Honda) was a best-yet sixth, ahead of Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha), who secured the Independent Team riders prize, with rival Danilo Petrucci (Pramac Ducati) crashing out of the first race, as did his team-mate Jack Miller.
Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM) was just two tenths behind, while Stefan Bradl (LCR Castrol Honda) and second Monster Yamaha rider Hafizh Syahrin completed the top ten. Even though Franco Morbidelli was another not to make the restart, he still had enough of a margin to defeat Syahrin as Rookie of the Year.
Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati) was 12th, losing 11th on the final lap to Scott Redding (Aprilia).
The last race of the Honda-powered Moto2 class was dramatic from the start on a wet and treacherous track.
Pole qualifier Luca Marini crashed as he touched the brakes for only the second corner, tagging his team-mate and new champion Pecco Bagnaia (SKY VR46 Kalex); and a little way back Joan Mir (ED VDS Kalex) did the same thing to Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40 Kalex).
Bagnaia survived, but finished the first lap way down in 21st, his chances gone. The other three were out … giving Alex Marquez a golden chance to win the battle for fourth overall.
The EG-VDS Kalex rider made the most of it, hunting down early leader Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM), and taking over on lap six. But Oliveira kept the pressure on, back to just over 1.5 seconds down as they started lap 15. At the end of it, Marquez crashed.
But while Oliveira swept on to a clear win and Iker Lecuona (SII KTM) was safe for second, by that time there had been so many crashes and the field was so spread that Marquez was able to remount and finish third.
Xavi Vierge (Dynavolt Kalex) had been third when he fell, and there were so many others, including American Joe Roberts (NTS) who had been dropped to 19th by the tangle on the first lap, bet – revelling in the conditions – he had climbed up into the top ten when he tumbled.
Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Kalex), who led lap one, was fourth – by the end he was almost caught by Remy Gardner, who ended his time with the Tech3 Moto2 Racing team with a to fifth, his best ever result. Fabio Quartararo (Speed Up) was now a couple of seconds behind – he’d started from the back of the grid after stalling on the form-up grid. Marcel Schrotter (Dynavolt Kalex) and Augusto Fernandez (Pons HP40 Kalex) were still close, Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Kalex) and Simone Corsi (Tasca Kalex) not far behind to close out the top ten.
No change for the top three in the championship, with Bagnaia, Oliveira and Binder already set, and Marquez’s 16 points put him 11 clear of Baldassarri.
They had to change the rules to let Can Oncu into the GPs under the minimum age of 16. Just in time for him to enter his first race and win it at the first attempt, and become the youngest-ever GP winner in history.
The 15-year-old Turk, wild-carding on a Red Bull Ajo KTM, stunned racing and overcame conditions that saw 15 crashes, to defeat new champion Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Honda) by four seconds.
He inherited the lead after pole starter Tony Arbolino (Marinelli Snipers Honda) slipped off after 12 of 23 laps, after having built up a lead of almost three seconds, yet another victim of a cold and puddled Ricardo Tormo circuit outside Valencia; continued alone, and survived an out-of-the-seat moment of his own on the final lap.
“It’s an incredible feeling – my first time. I don’t know what’s going on,” he said, thanking Dorna for the chance to join “the best team”.
Oncu, the elder of two Turkish twins, had been allowed under age in after winning the Red Bull Rookies Cup. Aged 15 years and 115 days, he broke Scott Redding’s “youngest-ever” winner’s record by 55 days.
It was a race of survival, with champion Martin finally getting clear of the pursuit trio, where John McPhee (CIP Green Power KTM) came back to overtake Fabio Di Giannantonio. The Italian didn’t fight back. With his rival for second overall, Redox KTM’s Marco Bezzecchi, out of the points, fourth was good enough for him to make it a one-two championship result for the Del Conca Gresini Honda team.
Bezzecchi had been fighting for the lead when he had the first of two tumbles, finally finishing 20th and last, a lap down, after pitting for running repairs.
Enea Bastianini (Leopard Honda) finished strongly for fifth, leaving Jaume Masia (Bester Capital KTM) by seven seconds at the end. But it was good enough for Masia to secure Rookie of the Year prize.
Antonelli and Atiratphuvapat (both Honda) and the KTMs of Ramirez and Vietti wrapped the top ten places.
By Michael Scott