MotoGP: Grief and joy in Catalunya

Valentino Rossi’s thrilling win overshadowed by tragic death of Luis Salom in Catalan MotoGP weekend.

The seventh round of the 2016 World MotoGP Championship held last weekend in Catalunya, Spain had all the makings to become a great weekend for fans. At the centre of it all was the premier class; battle royale between the three title contenders – Rossi, Marques and Lorenzo.

And though the MotoGP race, as well as the supporting Moto3 and Moto2 races on Sunday was thrilling as predicted, there was little that could overcome the fact that the sport lost one of its sons during Friday morning’s practice.

The death of Luis Salom

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MotoGP was rocked by its first fatality in years when young Spanish rider Luis Salom died after a crash during Friday morning’s Free Practice session. The Moto2 rider, better known by his nickname of ‘Mexicano’, was astride the SAG Team Kalex race machine when the incident occurred.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of this deadly crash at Turn 12, but security camera footage showed both Salom and his Kalex sliding at high speeds towards the air fence after the gravel trap at Circuit de Catalunya’s Turn 12.

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Two medical cars, two ambulances and one medical helicopter was despatched to the crash scene to treat Salom on site. The 24-year-old rider was then transported to the nearby Hospital General de Catalunya to receive further treatment. Sadly, the rider would succumb to his injuries and lost his life whilst being treated by doctors there.

Salom’s death marks the sport’s first fatality since the death of Marco Simoncelli in Sepang back in 2011 and the second Moto2 rider killed in racing after Japanese rider Shoya Tomizawa during the 2010 San Marino MotoGP weekend.

Salom’s death prompted a few changes to the weekend, one of which being FIM and Dorna’s decision to use the Formula 1 layout of the circuit instead, which was deemed safer.

MotoGP

Despite the all-Spanish lockout of the front row, Movistar Yamaha Factory Racing rider Valentino Rossi was hungry for vindication in Catalunya. Starting from fifth, Rossi’s biggest challenge were the three home heroes at the front row – Marc Marquez in pole position, teammate and rival Jorge Lorenzo in second, as well as Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa in third.

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The perfect race start and a relentless charge by ‘The Doctor’ Rossi eventually allowed the Italian to claim the race lead away from Marquez by Lap 7. Rossi was able to pull away from the rest but Marquez wasn’t far in tow, leading to their furious battle in the final few laps.

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Rossi eventually took the win, but only after Marquez paid a huge price from a mistake at Turn 7 whilst battling the Italian on the final lap. Rossi finished 2.652 seconds ahead of Marquez in second whilst the final podium spot was claimed by Dani Pedrosa who finished a further 6.313 seconds behind in third.

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For reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo, his chance to solidify his title lead in Catalunya was diminished after factory Ducati rider Andrea Iannone crashed into him. The latter Italian’s mistake in braking too late saw him running into the back of Lorenzo’s bike at Turn 10 on Lap 17, forcing both into retirement.

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Though officials have slapped Iannone with two penalty points and a last place starting position in the next race, it still does not fix the fact that Lorenzo has lost the lead to Marquez in the standings. Marquez regains the lead with 125 points, which is 10 points clear of Lorenzo in second whilst Rossi ranks third with 103 points.

Moto2

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Despite the tragic news of Salom’s death, the Moto2 fraternity got together and put on a masterclass of their racing craft. Shining here was reigning class champion Johann Zarco astride the Ajo Motorsports Kalex machine.

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The Frenchman rode the race of a lifetime from pole position – his first front row start of the season – and fended off the charges of home hero Alex Rins astride the Paginas Amarillas HP40 Kalex bike. Zarco made his move on Rins as the race was in its final few laps, with the Frenchman’s mastery of tyre preservation giving him the boost in the final stage he needed.

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Zarco eventually won by finishing first with a 4.180-second gap ahead of Rins who settled for second. Mounting the final podium spot in third was Japanese rider Takaaki Nakagami astride the Idemitsu Honda Team Asia Kalex machine.

Hafizh Syahrin in action at the French GP

Scoring his season’s best result in Catalunya was Malaysian rider Hafizh Syahrin. Astride the Petronas Raceline Malaysia Kalex, Hafizh performed sensationally by climbing up the order rapidly from his starting position of 13th up to third at one point. The Malaysian eventually finished in fourth to chart his season’s best result yet and collected more crucial championship points too.

Rins still leads the Moto2 championship standings with 116 points in total, followed by Brit Sam Lowes in second with 108 points whilst Zarco has elevated up to third with 106 points. Hafizh, on the other hand, sits strongly in fifth with 60 points collected so far.

Moto3

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Last but not least came another intense and nail-biting close competition in the World Moto3 Championship. Winning here was home hero Jorge Navarro astride the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda machine.

Navarro was the only one that kept his cool despite the race lead changing hands several times. A series of falls and mistakes incubated yet another close fight for the finish between four riders – Navarro, Brad Binder, Enea Bastianini and Romano Fenati.

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Alas, it was Navarro that had the upper hand as he finished 0.564 seconds ahead of South African rider Binder who took second astride the Red Bull KTM Ajo machine. Italian rider Bastianini finished in third astride the Gresini Racing Team Honda machine whilst Sky Racing Team VR46-KTM’s Fenati just missed out on the podium by finishing fourth.

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Despite just missing out on the win in Catalunya, Binder still leads the standings with 147 points. Navarro ranks second with 103 points, followed by Fenati in third with 80 points.

Round 8 – Assen TT, The Netherlands
As Round 7 concludes in Catalunya, Spain, all attention are now focused on the upcoming eight round in the famed Assen TT course in The Netherlands from June 24 to June 26. Raceday on Sunday kicks off with Moto3 at 5pm*, Moto2 at 6:20pm* and MotoGP at 8:00pm* as always.

(*local Malaysian time)

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