Fans numbering 92,350 strong trooped to the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli on race Sunday to see local boy and hometown Valentino Rossi. They were all expecting Vale to win his home Grand Prix. The fans’ all-out adulation for Rossi could be heard and seen everytime his face appears on the screen. Chants of ‘Vale! Vale! Vale!’ could be heard all around; it was surreal. Rossi, by starting on P3 behind Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, gave the fans what they wanted: a three way fight for the win, and possibly the lead in the champonships.
The day started out sunny and humid, but come race start, spots of rain in various sections of the track had the pit garages come alive with activity. Teams were preparing their wet weather bikes for the use of the riders, as soon as they chose to change. Rossi fans were hoping for a repeat of his rain-soaked Silverstone win two weeks ago. Expectations were high that the rain master would once again sit atop the podium after 28 laps.
As the lights went out to signal the start, Lorenzo, starting on pole, got a good launch to lead Marquez and Rossi into turn one. Jorge was even extending his lead midway into the lap, then, the rain then came down just enough to make conditions slippery. It was now a wet race!
It didn’t seem to bother the race leader. Jorge kept the gap to Marquez and Rossi constant. It was up to the two to keep up with him. Jorge never wavered in his resolve to leave the pack it its wake; he was relentless. On the 5th lap of the 28-lap race, the heavens opened up and dumped light rain around at the circuit. This meant tricky riding conditions as they had to tiptoe around the circuit. Their bikes using dry weather tires had little or no grip in the damp conditions. This went on for two laps, until majority of the riders decided to come in for a change of bikes. Having dry tires on a wet circuit is never a good idea.
Well, no one told that to the race leaders. The trio kept on racing until such time that they had no choice but come in at the end of the lap to ensure that they can make it to the end of the race. Track conditions was just abysmal.
Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi came out of the pits in P5, P6 and P7, respectively. The worsening conditions made it tricky for some riders, even race leader Jorge Lorenzo had a slight hesitation in turn 8 and this opened the door for Marc Marquez to swing past the Yamaha. This brought the Marquez fans to their feet. It was now Marquez leading with, Lorenzo, Rossi, Bradley Smith and Danilo Petrucci in tow.
But it was not only Jorge who failed to come to grips with the elements. Marquez, while leading, likewise overshot a corner, enabling Lorenzo to grab P1 with Vale sneaking past the Honda on the same occasion. Then it was Rossi’s turn to grab P1 from his teammate as the Italian swept past Lorenzo at the pit straight. Cheers erupted! The hometown hero leads! It was pandemonium! Visions of Rossi back-to-back victories had everyone on their feet, cheering him on everytime he rode past. Vale was being willed to win.
As things settled down and the track drying up out around lap 18, it was eveident that the wet weather tires would not hold up till the end of the race. Clumps of rubber could be seen flying off the tires. It was only a matter of time before they lost traction. It was a no brainer really: everyone had to pit!
Marquez came in ahead of Lorenzo and Rossi, but even with a two-second buffer, Rossi decided to stay out for another lap when Lorenzo came into the pits. Was this Rossi’s undoing? Going around for another lap on tires that are past its prime? Or would this move ensure that Vale comes out ahead of Jorge after his bike change? Whatever scenario Rossi had in his mind it was all for naught, as Marquez, who was running on dry tires, was substantially faster and claimed P1 as both factory Yamahas were dicing amongst themselves. It was now Marquez, Smith, Redding out in front.
With seven laps to go, Lorenzo suffered a brutal blow to his championship assault. Riding on his lonesome, the Yamaha had too much speed going into turn 15, and under braking, had a vicious highside. Jorge was out of the race.
Rossi was the immediate benficiary of Lorenzo’s DNF. All Vale had to do was to ride smart and finish the race, and take with it the corresponding points to pad his lead.
Marc Marquez took the checkered flag ahead of Bradley Smith and Scott Redding.
It was the first podium for Redding and the first non-podium for Rossi this year.
Valentino still leads the championship by 23 points over Lorenzo, who is on 224 points. With his win, Marc Marquez is now only 63 points adrift of the Italian. The win also gave Marc the lift he needed to win it all. Marquez believes, rightfully, that the championship is still far from over.
With 125 points on offer, Marc could mathematically win it all at season’s end. He just needs both Yamahas to suffer miserably in the coming races.