Valencia, Spain – Jorge Lorenzo, in his 250th Grand Prix and his last race for Yamaha, gave the Triple Tuning Fork a resounding farewell with a record-setting pole and a dominant lights-to-flag win at the closest he has to a home circuit.
South Africa’s Moto3 world champion Brad Binder dropped from second to 22nd when he picked up a momentary mechanical gremlin on lap two, but stormed back to take the win in fine style, and earn himself a new nickname – “Hurricane Brad”.
Lorenzo got the hole shot from pole, but it was Ducati’s Andrea Iannone who was the big winner into Turn 1 as he blasted through on the inside to take second. With Lorenzo already clear at the front, Iannone led the chase, ahead of Maverick Vinales (Suzuki), Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), world champion Marc Marquez (Honda) and Ducati Team lead rider Andrea Dovizioso, after Marquez got a bad start.
After getting past Vinales, Rossi and Iannone fought it out at the front of the pack as Lorenzo disappeared into the distance. Rossi and Iannone swopped places several times before Marquez took advantage of their squabble to dive through into second and set off after Lorenzo, eventually cutting three seconds off his lead.
The podium decider came down to a classic battle between Iannone and Rossi – with The Doctor seeming to have the upper hand until Iannone hit back with an aggressive move five laps from home, giving him a gap he was able to hold to the line.
Vinales completed his final weekend with Suzuki in fifth, while Dovizioso eventually dropped slightly back from the front group into the clutches of the Espargaro brothers Aleix (Suzuki) and Pol (Yamaha Tech 3) to debate sixth. Younger brother Pol finally took the honours over the line in a photo-finish with Dovizioso whil;e Aleix came home eighth.
Bradley Smith (Yamaha Tech 3) had another impressive ride as he fought back to fitness following a crash ahead of the British GP and two knee surgeries, finishing ninth in his final race with Tech 3 before moving to Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, while Alvaro Bautista had a stunning ride in his final race with Aprilia, completing the top 10 to round out a year of impressive progress.
It was a race to remember, as Franco Morbidelli, Johann Zarco, Alex Rins and Tom Luthi went to war in stunning style. Luthi got the best start off the line, but Zarco held firm into Turn 1 - and then the battle began. Valencia has a reputation as a difficult circuit on which to overtake, but the four at the front proved that wrong with an incredible showcase of one-make racing.
As the tyres went off, the fight became a duel for the lead between Morbidelli and Zarco, who pulled away in the closing stages to take his final victory in the intermediate class ahead of his graduation to MotoGP. Luthi came back through to take second - and confirm second in the championship - leaving Morbidelli to complete the podium.
The 18 points it netted were not enough to secure him third in the championship, however; Alex Rins held on to that spot by one point, by coming home fifth after being caught and passed at the end by Sam Lowes.
Julian Simon (Speed Up) had an unlucky end to a good weekend as he crashed out, leaving Takaaki Nakagami, Mattia Pasini, Jonas Folger (also in his last ride in Moto2) Danny Kent and Marcel Schrotter, who completed an all-Kalex top 10 after an astonishing save.
There was drama early as pole sitter Aron Canet’s Honda stalled on the grid and was pushed into pit lane, leaving Enea Bastianini (Honda) and Binder (KTM) to lead the initial melee on the first lap. KTM privateer Gabriel Rodrigo crashed out, skittling Francesco Bagnaia’s Mahindra in the process, before the end of the first lap and, moments later, Binder suddenly sat up and dropped off the pace, right down to 22nd.
That left top Rookie of the Year contender Joan Mir (KTM) at the front of the pack, 0.6s ahead of Rookie rival Fabio Di Giannantonio (Honda) – until he was penalised for passing under a yellow flags and instructed to drop a place, slowing down for the pack to catch him and allowing Andrea Migno (KTM) to take the lead.
But the fastest rider out there was Binder, who’d recovered his rhythm and sliced through the field to catch up to the 10-bike leading pack. With seven laps to go he was third, hunting down Migno and Mir for the lead. The world champion made just one mistake, running wide and dropping momentarily back to fourth, before storming through to the front, holding Mir and Migno at bay for an electrifying final lap to take the win by 0.06s.
Bastianini got the better of his rookie team-mate Fabio Di Giannantonio to confirm second in the title standings, ahead of Juanfran Guevara (KTM), Jakub Kornfeil (Honda), Philipp Oettl (KTM) and Jorge Navarro (Honda), who finished third in the title standings, with Mahindra’s Jorge Martin completing the top 10.