Marc Marquez has become the youngest back-to-back race winner in MotoGP history by winning the United States Motorcycle Grand Prix on his first appearance at the notoriously difficult anti-clockwise Laguna Seca circuit in Monterey, California, the shortest on the calendar at only 3.61km.
Honda’s red hot rookie extended his championship lead while Stefan Bradl, on a privateer Honda, scored his first premier-class podium finish from pole position and Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi held off another Honda-mounted privateer, Alvaro Bautista, for the final rostrum spot.
Bradl had stormed to a maiden pole position on Saturday while Marquez crashed out on his hot lap in qualifying - and still started from second. He got a poor start and run as low as fourth in the early stages, but managed to stay ahead of on-form Bautista and close in on Rossi, before pulling off the pass of the race in the intimidating downhill Corkscrew corner, the same place where Rossi famously mugged Ducati’s then World champion Casey Stoner in 2008.
He soon closed in on Bradl, pulling off a clean manoeuvre at the end of the 19th lap and opening a small gap in the final laps to win by 2.2 seconds and steal double champion Freddie Spencer’s place in the record books as the youngest rider to win consecutive Grands Prix in the premier class - as well as the first rookie rider to win at Laguna Seca.
Bradl put in a steady ride to second after a clean start from pole took him clear of the traffic jam in the early laps; it took Marquez until lap17 to get within striking distance and once the factory rider had taken the lead Bradl concentrated on managing the gap to Rossi in third.
The Doctor, in turn, held off a determined charge from Bautista in the closing stages; the on-form Spanish rider actually edged ahead in the final corner but Rossi retook the advantage in the sprint to the line to take his third consecutive podium finish by just 0.059sec and move past Yamaha satellite rider Cal Crutchlow to fourth in the standings.
This was always going to be a weekend of damage control for Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo and Honda team leader Dani Pedrosa, each suffering with a left-collarbone injury that made riding at this circuit, with its emphasis on heavy braking, very uncomfortable.
The two championship rivals wound up debating fifth, with Pedrosa finally clinching the spot thanks to a neat pass in the Andretti Hairpin. They finished three seconds ahead of Crutchlow, who was feeling the effects of a nasty crash in Q1 that forced him to run Q2 on his spare bike.
Ducati factory team mates Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso battled it out for eighth – at one stage bashing fairings down the start/finish straight – with Hayden in front when it mattered by a scant 0.166sec.
Hector Barbera, on an FTR, became the first rider other than Aleix Espargaro to lead the CRT runners after Espargaro crashed his ART crashed in the last corner.
With the season at its halfway point, MotoGP heads into its summer break before returning at Indianapolis in mid-August with Marquez holding a 16-point advantage over team mate Pedrosa after finishing on the podium in eight of his first nine races since joined the premier class as reigning Moto2 title-holder.
1 Marc Marquez (Spain) Honda - 44min00.695
2 Stefan Bradl (Germany) Honda +2.298sec
3 Valentino Rossi (Italy) Yamaha +4.498
4 Alvaro Bautista (Spain) Honda +4.557
5 Dani Pedrosa (Spain) Honda +9.257
6 Jorge Lorenzo (Spain) Yamaha +12.970
7 Cal Crutchlow (Britain) Yamaha +15.304
8 Nicky Hayden (United States) Ducati +33.963
9 Andrea Dovizioso (Italy) Ducati +34.129
10 Hector Barbera (Spain) FTR +1min02.369
POINTS after nine of 18 rounds
1 Marc Marquez (Spain) Honda – 163
2 Dani Pedrosa (Spain) Honda – 147
3 Jorge Lorenzo (Spain) Yamaha – 137
4 Valentino Rossi (Italy) Ducati - 117
5 Cal Crutchlow (Britain) Yamaha - 116
6 Stefan Bradl (Germany) Honda – 84
7 Andrea Dovizioso (Italy) Ducati – 81
8 Alvaro Bautista (Spain) Honda – 71
9 Nicky Hayden (United States) Ducati – 65
10 Aleix Espargaro (Spain) ART - 52