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Quartararo turns up the heat on Marquez

The hero of Misano was not the rider that won the race. Even Marc Marquez (who did win it – his seventh this year) acknowledged that. The kudos went to 20-year-old class rookie Fabio Quartararo, who had led from the third of 27 laps to the 26th. It took all of Marquez’s guile and determination to prevent the Petronas Yamaha rider for leading the 27th as well.

That’s how it looked, anyway; and that’s how Marquez described it, saying that “I was not the best rider today.” He’d followed the Frenchman closely, and though he probably could have gone ahead, “the lap time would not have been faster”. “You can see from following the Yamahas that Fabio is riding the Yamaha in a very good way – very precise, but especially in the fast corners.” Because of this, he timed his attack to be ahead through the very fast Turn 11 at the end of the straight, to be in a position to block him at the last tight right before the final two slow lefts. But Quartararo didn’t give up easily. Marquez passed him into the first corner, with the Frenchman passing him back three corners later. The champion elect had to pull another very forceful move to get where he needed to be, and then to make sure he was in the way for the rest of the lap, the pair almost colliding at the same Turn 14. Quartararo was jubilant with finishing second and achieving his ambition of a toe-to-toe battle with Marquez. “It was not only the best moment in my career, but the best in my life! When a seven-times champion is behind you all race, then he overtakes you in turn one and you overtake back in turn four … “This time we finished second, but really close.

It was all the more impressive because of treacherous track conditions. A micro-blasting treatment along with blazing heat meant that grip was so poor it was like riding in the wet, according to several riders; and there were many crashes all weekend, especially in the smaller classes.

Maverick Vinales (Monster Yamaha), racing with the old (aluminium) swing-arm and exhaust system, had qualified on pole, ahead of a jubilantly on-form Pol Espargaro’s Red Bull KTM and Quartararo, with Marquez in the middle of row two, between Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha) and Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati). Vinales led away, from Quartararo, with Marquez rapidly up to third. Morbidelli was close, then Espargaro, staying well in touch for almost ten laps, and blocking the pursuit by Alex Rins (Ecstar Suzuki), Rossi and Dovizioso.

Vinales later explained that “I tried my best, but the feeling was not good. I lost the front many times, and the rear, so I decided not to push. Today was not my day.” On the third lap Quartararo passed, and next time Marquez also, and the factory Yamaha dropped away quickly, though still comfortably clear of the rest. Towards the end, his pace improved again, and he closed to within seven tenths. “I’m happy. We are making progress, and I will take it to the next race.”

The pursuit was led by Morbidelli, with Espargaro not far behind. Rins made a dive past the KTM at the first corner on lap five, but immediately fell victim to the slippery conditions, and dropped back behind Rossi and Dovizioso. He wouldn’t pass another rider, and eventually crashed out on lap 15. Rossi finally found his way past the fast-accelerating KTM on lap seven. Unlike his team-mate he was using the new carbon-fibre swing-arm and twin exhaust, but his third-row start foiled his hopes of a first podium in nine races. Two laps later Dovizioso was also ahead of the KTM, but almost a second adrift. Rossi nipped inside Morbidelli at the first corners on lap 17, and the pair stayed close to the end. This allowed Dovizioso to close up, but poor corner speed and fading grip meant he was unable to attack, and by the end, had dropped away by a second.

Pol Espargaro was alone by the end in seventh, coming under pressure from Jack Miller (Pramac Ducati) towards the end of the race, with Miller attempting to fend off the returned-from-injury, Joan Mir (Ecstar Suzuki), with Mir getting by the Ducati on lap 21. Ducati wild card Michele Pirro had been leading a close battle behind, from factory Ducati rider Danilo Petrucci and a struggling Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda). Pirro slid off on lap 21; Crutchlow also a couple of laps later, leaving Petrucci to complete the top ten. Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM) was less than a second behind at the end, having finally got away from Aleix Espargaro on the sole Aprilia, team-mate Andrea Iannone a non-starter after breaking his wrist on Saturday. Tito Rabat (Avintia Ducati) closed to within less than a second over the line. Miles behind a cautious Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda) was 14th for a second race; then after 25 seconds, Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM) took the final point, five seconds ahead of team-mate Miguel Oliveira, who had crashed and remounted. Pecco Bagnaia (Pramac Ducati) also crashed out.

Marquez’s ever-growing title lead now mirrors his racing number “93”, with 275 points to Dovizioso’s 182. Petrucci has 151, then Rins 149 and Vinales 134. With six races remaining, the Honda rider is now likely to tie up the championship with four or more to spare.

3 Maverick VIÑALES
4 Valentino ROSSI
8 Joan MIR
10 Danilo PETRUCCI
11 Johann ZARCO
13 Tito RABAT
14 Jorge LORENZO

Marquez, MotoGP race, San Marino MotoGP 2019

Words Michael Scott

Pics GnG