MotorLand: How To Upstage The Locals

Taking it to the limit is Marc Marquez’ modus operandi, but at MotorLand the reigning Champion took it up a notch. Not getting the best start but far from the worst, the Honda rider had a few targets ahead of him on track if he wanted to take the win after crashing in qualifying – and to take the win he most definitely wanted.

Marquez pushed at Misano, but only for a lap. That was the risk he was willing to take, but at MotorLand the Spaniard took a few more: wide, wobbly and at one point almost skittling both Rossi and Lorenzo, it was the number 93 scrabbling to get to the front and take his fifth win of the year. And he made it happen, walking the tightrope the best of anyone once again. In Misano, it was worth nine points – at MotorLand it may have been worth the title.

The gap isn’t that big, still 16 points to Dovizioso, but the Italian struggled a bit at the track and came home a costly P7. Viñales also had a costly finish although in fourth, having hoped to fight for the win. So the headline should be the Championship – and was nearly a triple crash – and yet it isn’t.

- MotoGP - Ciudad del Motor de Aragón - 2017

In modern motorcycle racing, what can be achieved so soon after injury is incredible. At Aragon, Valentino Rossi added another awesome addition to the list of medicinal miracles, putting in the most scintillating performance since Lorenzo rode at Assen in 2013, a day after surgery.

Friday was wet but the rider from Tavullia got off to a happy enough start, but with some pain. By Saturday morning everything was a little better, and the nine-time World Champion stunned already by taking a front row start. But the story was far from done, as race day dawned with another step forward and the goal posts moved once again.

He knew he would struggle in the latter half of the race, so the start could play a big role in the outcome. Off the line, Rossi slotted into the front few and then proved capable of hunting down Lorenzo in the lead, close to his former teammate before the cavalry arrived on the scene. That was incredible enough, but even as the laps ticked down and the tiredness began to set in, the Doctor wasn’t done – battling teammate Maverick Viñales almost to the end of the race, and crossing the line only half a second behind the younger man.

- Valentino Rossi #46 I Maverick Vinales #25 I Andrea Dovizioso #04 I Cal Crutchlow #35 - MotoGP - Ciudad del Motor de Aragón - 2017

After so much talk about training and fitness and age and preparation following his crash doing enduro, Rossi absolutely muted the discussion at Aragon. Pedrosa and Lorenzo were excellent, Marquez’s was a Champion’s ride despite the wobbles, but Rossi upstaged them all on home turf without even getting on the podium – and there was no one he more upstaged than Viñales.

The Spaniard may have beaten him to the line, but it was by only half a second in a season that sees the number 25 fighting for a Championship at full strength. That will hurt – and he was certainly eager to make a move to get past his veteran teammate. Too eager? Diving up the inside and forcing Rossi to pull in his leg given the circumstances would surely not have been appreciated in reverse, but then fit to race means fit to race. The problem for Viñales is that crossing the line just ahead of Rossi was the bare minimum, and nothing more.

- Valentino Rossi #46 - Movistar Yamaha - MotoGP - 2017

Other than the sting to his ego of a 38 year old with a broken leg almost beating him in a home GP, the fourth position was also harmful in the standings. Gaining on Dovizioso but losing out big to Marquez, this is it now for Viñales: Motegi has to be the start of a war, because the title is already on the brink of lost.

Not quite so for Dovizioso, and especially given the characteristics of Motegi – perfect for the Ducati – and Sepang, where he won last season. But in between them is Phillip Island, a track that has never favoured the Italian. Marquez is in the driving seat, but he’s not alone in the car.

It’s never over until the flag, it just may now be a two horse race. At MotorLand, however, the horses weren’t the main attraction – the GOAT was.

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