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GP Week : Issue 186
25 GPWEEK.com // 25 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: >>> MOTOGP FEATUrE more technical Assen, Yamaha prevailed again. But it was not Lorenzo: he was engaged in a heroic struggle back from injury, finishing fifth. At last, after a good start then something of a slump, Yamaha team-mate Rossi was back on top of the box, for the first time in more than two years. The other element of the front part of the pack has been Cal Crutchlow, on the satellite Monster Yamaha lagging slightly behind the factory bikes technically, but good enough for his first pole position (at Assen), and a run of three rostrum finishes in the last three races. Cal was kicking himself after Assen for failing to solve the problem that in this case cost him a possible win: losing time in the early laps with a full tank. Cal is fourth overall, 26 points off Marquez but almost 50 behind the leader. At the same time, Rossi’s Assen win brought the old master to within two points. Rossi’s return to Yamaha was a major talking point, and promised much, but has taken time to even start delivering. He would be higher but for a major mishap at his home GP at Mugello. Battling for position in the first corners after yet another third-row start he found himself on a collision course with Alvaro Bautista’s FUN&GO Honda. Both went down, with neither attracting any official sanction. Just a racing accident, said the big chiefs. Bautista rather undermined his innocence two weeks later in Catalunya when he had another first-lap crash, damn nearly taking Rossi out for a second race in a row. With this going on up front, and the championship still wide open, Ducati’s continuing problems have now become something of a background noise. New rider Dovizioso effectively swapped seats with Rossi when the older rider took the Yamaha factory seat to which Dovi aspired. Dovi outqualified Valentino at four of the first five races, and beat him in France and Italy (to be fair, Rossi was innocent victim of a first-lap tangle at the latter); but he has made no secret that he – along with team-mate Hayden – are facing the same old problems: understeer chief among them, as well as a tendency to use up its tyres faster than the rest. Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda) has improved steadily without doing anything spectacular; second ex-Moto2 refugee Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha) has shown steady progress, but impressed more with his courage, after suffering painful wrist and finger injures in practice at Mugello. The other notable of the season has yet to finish higher than eighth, but Aleix Espargaro (Power Electronics ART) stands head and shoulders above the rest of the CRT riders on machines powered by production-based engines; reliably the best in every qualification bar one and certainly in every race. He has been troubling the lesser prototypes such as the B-team Ducatis ridden by Iannone and (for the first two races) Ben Spies. Spies ran only two races because of failure to recover from major reconstructive shoulder surgery over the winter. He withdrew indefinitely on the eve of the third round, and has yet to return. The smaller classes have been even more of a Spanish playground, making Scott Redding’s significant 30-point title lead all the more impressive. The English Kalex rider gained ground with consecutive wins while pre-season favourite Pol Espargaro (also Kalex) crashed out of two races. The Spaniard bounced back to win the last two rounds, but his supposed superiority is looking a bit desperate against Redding’s consistent strength. In its second year, Moto3 is a thriving hotbed of juvenile talent, with fantastically close racing. It’s Spain that dominates again, and how, with three riders – Luis Salom, Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins crowding out every rostrum except one ... Rins crashed out in Jerez, letting their closest rival Jonas Folger take third. The top three ride KTMs, Folger a Kalex KTM, Marc’s younger brother Alex Marquez, lying fifth overall, another KTM. The radial-valve Austrian engines are uncomfortably superior in a class where strict cost rules are meant to level things out – tighter rules next year might help the rivals. Only the Mahindras are able to get close: remarkable for a brand-new bike conceived and built in just six months, with Portuguese hot prospect Miguel Oliveira three points behind Marquez for fifth overall: the best Honda is Frenchman Alexis Masbou’s FTR-frame bike, 14 points away in seventh.