Works Honda rider Dani Pedrosa stormed to a thrilling victory at the Czech Grand Prix, 0.178 ahead of Yamaha factory team leader Jorge Lorenzo, with Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso, on the two Tech 3 satellite Yamahas, 10 seconds further adrift.
Despite threatening clouds, the main event was run on a dry circuit – much to the delight of the fans and the relief of the riders – as Lorenzo grabbed the hole shot, holding off Pedrosa and Crutchlow into Turn 1.
Lorenzo's team mate Ben Spies seemed unable to shake off his gremlins, though; his take-off was wrecked by a slipping clutch and he dropped back dramatically after a few corners, as Dovizioso and Ducati's Valentino Rossi chased down Crutchlow.
Just behind them Honda privateers Stefan Bradl and Álvaro Bautista were disputing sixth as if it were the lead, banging elbows and fairing through for the first laps, until Bradl finally made a move that stuck.
Meanwhile Spies, by then down to 13th, had sorted his clutch problems and he began a charge through the pack to get back into contention. Three laps later, Bradl had reeled in Rossi on the lone factory Ducati and, after several attempts, got by to take over fifth - seconds before Spies put an end to a furious charge by crashing out.
By mid-race Lorenzo and Pedrosa – still within touching distance of each other – had pulled out a significant gap over Crutchlow, while Bautista overtook Rossi, whose Desmosedici seemed to be losing pace. A lap later Pedrosa dived up the inside to take the lead, although he was unable to break away as the Mallorcan continued to stick to his rear wheel.
The last lap was MotoGP racing at its best with Lorenzo forcing his way past Pedrosa, only for the Honda rider to strike back almost immediately fighting. The two were almost side by side into the final turn but Pedrosa had the better line going in and got better drive coming out to win the sprint to the line by a length for his third victory of the season.
Pedrosa's win moved him up within 13 points of Lorenzo and blew the championship race wide open, while Crutchlow scored his first podium in the premier class, an appropriate way to celebrate re-signing with Tech 3 at Brno.
Fourth went to Dovizioso, ahead of Bradl, Bautista, Rossi and Randy de Puniet (ART), with local hero Karel Abraham (Ducati) and De Puniet’s team mate Aleix Espargaró completing the top ten.
The track had dried out sufficiently for the 600cc race to be declared dry, with Suter rider Thomas Lüthi making the best of the conditions at the start to take the lead ahead of Espargaró (Kalex) and Márquez (Suter).
Márquez made his intentions known early as he dived past his compatriot into second, while Speed Up rider Andrea Iannone, not wanting the leading trio to pull away, overtook Simone Corsi (Ioda) on lap three, and pushed past Espargaró shortly after.
The leading group stayed tightly bunched for a number of laps and it wasn’t until lap seven that Iannone battled his way past Márquez into second – but that only lasted for a lap as Marquez struck back, while Espargaró survived a huge moment in fourth.
With track conditions were still not ideal after the earlier rain and few riders were willing to try rash moves, leading to uncharacteristically cautions racing - until lap 12, when Espargaró dived down the inside to take Iannone for third.
Then, while Márquez was looking for a way past Lüthi, Espargaró charged past him into second, only for Marquez to promptly return the favour.
Espargaró, however, was then ordered by race direction to drop one position for overtaking under a yellow flag. He said later he didn't immediately see the pit board, and continued to chase after Márquez until four laps from the end, when Iannone straightened matters out by putting him in his place – literally!
This ignited an entertaining dice between the pair, as Lüthi lost the lead to Márquez. The battle for fifth place also gained momentum in the final laps with Johann Zarco (Motobi) and veteran Alex de Angelis, on an FTR, swapping positions frequently.
The final lap was a thriller with Lüthi and Márquez banging elbows all the way and Iannone all over both of them like a rash. Lüthi made his big move in the final corner but didn't have the drive coming out on to the straight, as Márquez took the win by just 0.061 seconds, with Espargaró third. Fourth went to Iannone, followed by Corsi, De Angelis, Zarco, Tech 3’s Bradley Smith and Kalex riders Mika Kallio and Esteve Rabat.
Márquez' win increased his championship lead over Espargaró to 48 points.
Although it wasn't actually raining the track was wet enough for race direction to declare it a wet race. Nevertheless, it looked like a dry line was forming and many of the riders opted for slicks.
KTM rider Zulfahmi Khairuddin got the holeshot, but Efrén Vázquez (FTR Honda), on wet tyres, soon took the lead on the still very damp track, with Jonas Folger (Kalex KTM's in hot pursuit.
On lap four Folger, on slicks, pushed past for the lead, as the drying track was causing Vázquez problems. Behind the two, Mahindra’s local replacement rider Miroslav Popov, FTR Honda pilot Jakub Kornfeil and KRP Honda hopeful John McPhee were having a great race dicing for third.
On lap seven Kornfeil got past the struggling Vázquez into second, with Popov making his way past a lap later.
By half-distance both Khairuddin and McPhee had passed Vázquez, as the KTM rider Sandro Cortese closed in the leading bunch. A lap later Khairuddin moved into third, whilst Cortese and Alex Rins (Suter Honda) moved up to challenge him.
By then Folger had pulled out a 12-second lead and the race was all about second as as Cortese slipped into third and set off after Kornfeil and Maverick Viñales (FTR Honda) slowly worked his way up to fourth.
With four laps to go, however, it all went pear-shaped as Khairuddin and then Popov crashed out, and the final laps were all about Kornfeil holding off Cortese and Viñales - who were dicing each other as much as they were trying to pass Kornfeil.
On the very last lap Luis Salom (Kalex KTM) blitzed all three to grab second – while and Cortese, Vinales and Rins took advantage of the momentary confusion to demote Kornfeil to sixth.
Nevertheless, everybody from Salom in second to Kornfeil in sixth finished within less than a second after a thrilling race. Cortese’s team mate Danny Kent, Romano Fenati (FTR Honda), Rins’ team mate Miguel Oliveira and Fenati’s team mate Alessandro Tonucci made up the rest of the top 10.
Folger's win, the second of his Grand Prix career, gifted Cortese a 32-point lead over Vinales at the top of the championship standings.
RESULTS – MOTOGP
1 Dani Pedrosa (Spain) Honda – 42min51.570
2 Jorge Lorenzo (Spain) Yamaha +0.178sec
3 Cal Crutchlow (Britain) Yamaha +12.343
4 Andrea Dovizioso (Italy) Yamaha +18.591
5 Stefan Bradl (Germany) Honda +25.582
6 Alvaro Bautista (Spain) Honda +29.451
7 Valentino Rossi (Italy) Ducati +34.514
8 Randy de Puniet (France) ART +1min04.285
9 Karel Abraham (Czech Republic) Ducati +1min08.278
10 Aleix Espargaro (Spain) ART +1min09.972
11 Toni Elias (Spain) Ducati +1min10.003
12 Yonny Hernandez (Colombia) BQR +1min24.040
13 Colin Edwards (US) Suter +1min27.898
14 Michele Pirro (Italy) FTR +1min36.165
15 James Ellison (Britain) ART +1min40.565
16 Mattia Pasini (Italy) ART +1min41.226
17 Danilo Petrucci (Italy) IODA +1lap
1 Marc Marquez (Spain) Suter – 41min19.178
2 Thomas Luthi (Switzerland) Suter +0.061sec
3 Pol Espargaro (Spain) Kalex +0.440
4 Andrea Iannone (Italy) Speed Up +0.510
5 Simone Corsi (Italy) FTR +10.319
6 Alex de Angelis (San Marino) FTR +10.643
7 Johann Zarco (France) Motobi +10.717
8 Bradley Smith (Britain) Tech3 +10.873
9 Mika Kallio (Finland) Kalex +11.047
10 Esteve Rabat (Spain) Kalex +11.517
1 Jonas Folger (Germany) Kalex KTM – 43min03.089
2 Luis Salom (Spain) Kalex KTM +5.918sec
3 Sandro Cortese (Germany) KTM +5.963
4 Maverick Vinales (Spain) FTR Honda +6.091
5 Alex Rins (Spain) Suter Honda +6.490
6 Jakub Kornfeil (Czech Republic) FTR Honda +6.572
7 Danny Kent (Britain) KTM +8.421
8 Romano Fenati (Italy) FTR Honda +13.382
9 Miguel Oliveira (Portugal) Suter Honda +13.909
10 Alessandro Tonucci (Italy) FTR Honda +22.466