Brno, Czech Republic – World champion Marc Marquez pulled off a tactical masterstroke at the Autodrom Brno, diving into the pits to swop to a slick-shod Honda after only two laps of a wet but rapidly drying circuit, and then walking away to win by 12 seconds from team-mate Dani Pedrosa.
Reigning Moto3 champion, South African Brad Binder, was running sixth in the Moto2 race when the rain came down and the red flags came out for a Quick Restart on wets - only to get mugged on the second lap of the restart and finish 12th.
His younger brother Darryn was ruled out of the Czech Grand Prix after breaking his thumb in a supermoto crash on Saturday 29 July while training in South Africa. Three pins were inserted to stabilise the broken bone the next day, but it’s not yet known how long he will have to sit out.
With the field all on wets, Marquez got away in the lead at lights out, but a storming start for Jorge Lorenzo from fifth saw him move through to take the lead on Lap 1 with Ducati Team-mate Andrea Dovizioso third and Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi just besting Pedrosa on the second factory Honda to take fourth.
Lorenzo began to pull away as Rossi blitzed both Dovizioso and Marquez to take second – but a dry line was already appearing. Marquez, struggling on the softer tyres and tyaking the gamble early, was the first to dive into the pits and switch to slicks. Rossi was closing on Lorenzo as the track dried, before the Ducati rider headed in – as did many of the front group.
Meanwhile Marquez, back out on slicks, was on a charge, and it appeared he’d played his hand to perfection. As the pack shuffled, he soon took the lead – proving his decision to pit a tactical masterstroke as the dust settled with the gap back to Pedrosa in second about 20 seconds.
Meanwhile, Lorenzo was delayed in the pits as the riders around him - including Vinales - streamed out, with Rossi and Dovizioso staying out for another lap before diving in together.
Vinales got the hammer down from the mid-pack as everyone shuffled back out on track, slowly starting to reel in those ahead of him. Picking them off one-by-one, he battled past Honda privateer Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci on the satellite Pramac Ducati and Apriloa’s Aleix Espargaro, to make it into some clear air, six seconds off Pedrosa in second and the podium seeming decided.
Pedrosa, meanwhile, secure in second, was able to knock a good few seconds off Marquez' lead while, slightly further back, Dovizioso had a simple mission: after both pitting late, the Italian needed to stay as close to Rossi as possible. Close on points in the championship, ‘DesmoDovi’ achieved some damage limitation by managing to stay close enough, but Rossi kept the upper hand.
With Crutchlow the last rider between the ‘Doctor’ and his team-mate Vinales, Rossi got his head down and pushed on - eventually passing Crutchlow on the final lap. Dovizioso followed Crutchlow home in sixth, not quite able to shadow Rossi over the line.
Petrucci took a solid seventh after losing grip in the latter stages, ahead of Aleix Espargaro after a penalty for an unsafe release in pit lane saw the latter forced to drop back three places.
Pol Espargaro put in a rock-star performance on the new KTM RC16, coming home just 0.2s behind his older brother, a stunning result in a tough race and bringing home some good points for the Austrian factory.
Rookie Jonas Folger on the Yamaha Tech 3 completed the top 10, slicing back through the field and escaping the clutches of fellow rookie Alex Rins on the second of the factory Suzukis – after team leader Andrea Iannone crashed in pit lane! Iannone eventually finished second-last in 19th.
Thomas Luthi took a near-perfect win in a shortened six-lap sprint, carving out a five second advantage in almost the same number of laps to head Alex Marquez. Miguel Oliveira (KTM) completed the podium, with Championship leader Franco Morbidelli coming home eighth.
Oliveira got the best start off the line, but Mattia Pasini soon struck back on the first lap to take the lead - leaving the KTM rider to fight it out with Morbidelli.
Marquez made a good start to slot into fifth, with Brad Binder (KTM) tagged onto the back to make a lead group of six. Then the rain began to fall, and as the frontrunners began to raise their hands, the red flag came out.
It would be the Quick Restart procedure, sadly missing Suter riders Sandro Cortese, who crashed just before the flag, and Dominique Aegerter, whose bad luck continued with a crash after a collision the first lap.
Full points awarded – and a six lap sprint.
The grid for the restart was formed from the standings on the last lap before the flag, putting Pasini back on pole. But when the lights went out Luthi made the start of the century, taking the holeshot from seventh(!) on the grid. Marquez slotted into second, just as Pasini slid out, bringing his 200th Grand Prix to a premature end.
As Luthi bolted, Marquez followed and it was Oliveira on the chase - with Morbidelli getting swamped in the mad dash. Luca Marini, Xavi Vierge (Tech 3), Simone Corsi (Speed Up) and Francesco Bagnaia all flew past the points leader, with a battle of the rookies between Binder and Jorge Navarro raging behind him.
Alone at the front, it was near-perfection from Luthi, who simply disappeared into the distance to cross the line almost five seconds clear: a stunning 25 point haul sending shockwaves through the title fight.
Marquez took an impressive second on his return from injury after a similarly faultless performance in tough conditions, with Oliveira just unable to chase him down, and forced to settle for completing the podium.
Marini took fourth ahead of Vierge in their best results yet, with Corsi sixth, having put some fresh air between himself and Bagnaia. Morbidelli in eighth managed to salvage some solid points from the tough sprint to the finish.
Completing the top ten were two more candidates for joining Luthi for ride of the day, with Remy Gardner (Tech 3), son of 1987 500cc world champion Wayne Gardner, charging up into ninth to impress for his best result yet. Behind him, in an incredible debut, Joe Roberts moved up from 28th to finish 10th in his first ever Moto2 GP race.
Brad Binder was running sixth when the flag came out, but was mugged on the second lap of the lap the restart, falling back to 11th, and finished 12th after falling victim to Gardner and Roberts’ charges.
Championship leader Joan Mir extended his advantage after a wet-weather showdown, staying in contention throughout before holding off Romano Fenati as it came down to a duel. The weather was wet as the lights went out, with the track then drying as the laps ticked on. An all-Honda podium was completed by Aron Canet after an almighty fight with KTM riders Bo Bendsneyder and Juanfran Guevara.
Gabriel Rodrigo (KTM) got a great start from pole, with Guevara moving up from third to follow his team-mate through Turn 1. Mir attacked Fenati into the first corner, but the Italian held firm initially before the field began to settle in and some began to struggle, some to shine. John McPhee (Honda) made a superb initial charge from nineteenth into the top ten, with wildcard Tim Georgi (KTM) making up even more ground and soon battling the McPhee.
Nakarin Atiratphuvapat (Honda) was the highest-placed initial charger, however, as the Thai rider made it up into the top four and was the fastest man on track. Up ahead, Guevara had taken the lead with Bendsneyder all over him like a riash and Mir in third, under p[ressure from Atiratphuvapat and Marcos Ramirez (KTM).
Fenati was a further second back, leading another group as the field proved more spread out than in the usual Moto3 dry showdown. As the track dried out, however, Bendsneyder, Guevara, Fenati and Mir broke away at the front - but Canet, who’d started 17th, was gaining pace as conditions improved. Mir made a break for in the closing stages, followed by Fenati, leaving Canet to fight it out for the final podium spot with against Bendnseyder and Guevara, getting the best of it at the death to complete a stunning comeback.
McPhee was another who made incredible progress, making up thirteen places by the flag to finish sixth, a little more than a second ahead of Ramirez and Honda riders Tatsuki Suzuki (Honda), Adam Norrodin and Atiratphuvapat, who shone in the difficult conditions.