Misano Adriatico, Italy – Dani Pedrosa may have won the San Marino Motorcycle Grand Prix but local resident Valentino Rossi was the hero at the Circuit Marco Simoncelli as he clawed back another seven vital points from leader Marc Marquez in the championship standings.
Meanwhile South African Moto3 star Brad Binder took his fifth win of the season, after a brilliantly-judged tactical battle with title rival Enea Bastianini, to put himself within reach of taking the title at the next round, with four races still to go.
Three times world champion Dani Pedrosa (Honda) took a stunning victory, leaving rivals Yamaha rivals Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in the dust to become the eighth different premier-class winner of 2016, an all-time first since the championship began in 1949 - and he did it from eighth on the grid.
Lorenzo got the jump from pole, leading the field into Turn 1 as he so often does, with front row starter Rossi and Suzuki’s Maverick Viñales going head-to-head for second. Pedrosa got an incredible start from the third row to move up into the front group, joining Viñales, Ducati Team rider Andrea Dovizioso and factory Honda team-mate Marc Marquez in the battle for third.
Rossi soon struck at the front, going inside team-mate Lorenzo at the final corner and pushing the reigning champion wide to take the lead. But the charging Pedrosa was now the fastest man on the circuit, breaking 1m33 in a race for the first time to set a new lap record and making a pass on usually dominant team-mate Marquez look easy.
After slicing past Lorenzo almost as easily, he passed Rossi with an aggressive move that forced the local hero to sit u and enabled Pedrosa to open a gap Rossi was unable to close, coming home almost three seconds in arrears at his home circuit, a result he later described as ‘a shame’, with Lorenzo third, a further 1.5s in arrears.
Marquez battled home in fourth after a tough day at the office, but retained a 43 point advantage in the points standings with five races remaining.
Six seconds later Viñales led home rider Andrea Dovizioso and temporary team-mate Michele Pirro. Honda privateer Cal Crutchlow finished eighth on the road but dropped to ninth behind Yamaha Tech 3’s Pol Espargaro after a ‘short-cut’ penalty, while Alvaro Baustista put in a fantastic ride in Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s home race to round out the top 10.
Lorenzo Baldassarri took a stunning maiden win after a game of cat-and-mouse with title contender Alex Rins, with Takaaki Nakagami moving up to complete the podium after some chaotic early laps, pushing championship leader Johann Zarco down to fourth.
Zarco and Nakagami got the best starts from the front row, before Nakagami went into Turn 1 too hot, pushing Tom Luthi wide over the run off area. Luthi recovered quickly but Nakagami nearly crashed, rejoining way down the field, and was eighth the end of the first lap.
Rins put in an aggressive first lap to tag onto the back of the leaders, just behind Luthi, with Baldassari and Franco Morbidelli shadowing Zarco. After a lap full of drama, the reigning champion then found himself wrestled down to fifth, with title rival Sam Lowes right behind him. Lowes soon got past him, pushing him down to sixth, with Nakagami glued to his rear wheel - and soon past him.
As Rins and Baldassarri pulled way, the battle for third raged with Lowes, Morbidelli and Nakagami battling it out ahead of Luthi and Zarco - until Lowes pushed just a bit too hard on lap 14 and slid out of the race - and possibly the title fight.
Nakagami broke free in the second half of the race to chase Baldassarri down for second; Rins was still out in front, but beginning to waver as the pain of a collarbone broken in a training accident ahead of the British Grand Prix.
Fully fit, Baldassari gradually reeled him in; Rins' defense was incredible as he pushed to keep up the pace despite the injury, but two laps from the flag Baldassari pounced.
Even then Rins wouldn't let him go and stuck to Baladassari’s back wheel before trying a move on the final lap, but ran wide and had to settle for second after a superhuman ride. Zarco followed Morbidelli across the line in fifth, ahead of Silverstone winner Luthi, Malaysian rider Hafizh Syahrin, team-mates Jonas Folger and Sandro Cortese, and Alex Marquez, who regained some more confidence with another solid finish to round out the top ten.
To give some perspective to the Kalex domination of this class, the only one of 21 finishers not riding a Kalex was Xavi Vierge, who was 12th on a Tech 3.
KTM star Binder got the better of a fascinating two-way tactical duel with Honda privateer Enea Bastianini, while Joan Mir (KTM) stormed through the field from 16th on the grid to complete the podium.
Bastianini got the best start and led through Turn 1, with a great start from the second row for Jakub Kornfeil (Honda) saw him challenge pole-sitter Binder for second through Turn 2.
The South African hit back as Jorge Navarro (Honda) and team-mate Aron Canet tagged onto the back of the front three, with Nicolo Bulega (KTM) starting to fight back after losing positions off the line, muscling his way through to grab the lead.
But title rivals Binder and Bastianini were having none of it, challenging the local hero at every turn while Mir joined the front freight train.
When Binder hit the front, Bastianini tucked in go with him, the two pulling away after Navarro lost the rear at Turn 14 and slid out of the race, doing his champion chances no good at all.
With ten laps to go, the race was a story of two duels at the front, with Bastianini all over Binder as fast-starting Mir wrestled with Bulega behind. Bastianini led at the start of the last lap, but Binder put in a scorcher to take back the lead with just a couple of corners to go. Bastianini tried once more, diving for the inside on the very last corner, but couldn’t make it stick and crossed the line a very well-earned second.
Mir was ordered by race direction to drop back one place after exceeding track limits, but timed it perfectly to take back third almost immediately, holding Bulega off throughout a cliff-hanger final lap to take the final rostrum place.
With Navarro failing to score, that put Binder an almost unheard 106 points clear at the top of the world’s closest-fought motorsport category, with five races still to go.
Should Binder finish first or second at Motorland Aragon on 25 September, he could spend the rest of the season braaing in his backyard in Krugersdorp and still win the championship by one point!