Crutchlow, Petrucci, Zarco: 5 points in it

Heading into the final four rounds of the season, the Independent Team Championship couldn’t be much closer…

The Independent Team Championship looks set to go all the way to Valencia as Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol), Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) and Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Johann Zarco leave the PTT Thailand Grand Prix just five points apart in the overall standings.

Crutchlow currently leads the way on 128 points and despite suffering from an illness throughout the weekend, the British rider was able to pick up a solid top ten finish in P7 in Sunday’s race: “Up until the 15th lap I was okay, but after lap 15 it was like a switch and I had to really try to manage,” explained Crutchlow, who sat in P4 for the opening half of the race.

“My problem was that I got passed by four riders in two laps. Then I lost 3 seconds in that time. Then it was just a last ten lap race of survival to try to make sure we finish the race because we need the points for the Championship, but to finish six seconds off the winner and in seventh place is disappointing because I finished six seconds of in Misano and was on the podium, so it was a bit of a difficult race for the aspect of the position but we’re happy to finish.”

Nonetheless, a P7 finish ensured the Honda rider was able to gain a slight advantage over Petrucci in the standings, the latter finishing P9 after a difficult race to sit on 126 points: “It was a difficult race. There was a moment in the middle of the race that I was quite close to the front group but I think the first guys were quite were relaxed for I wasn’t,” said the Italian, who admitted that his target was to stay with both Crutchlow and Zarco in the race.

“Maybe, with a better start, I can fight for a place around the top 5. My target was to be close to Zarco and Cal. There was a moment that I was trying to catch Cal but Iannone passed me very strong and I went wide, then I lost the position even on Bautista and didn’t have the pace to follow Cal and Johann. Unfortunately, we lost some points from our target, that is to be the first independent team but, anyway, in these races where it’s very hot, I struggle a lot with the tyre at the end.”

Despite difficult races, the pair remain ahead of Zarco in the overall standings. But after finishing P5 in Thailand - his best result since his podium in Jerez - the Frenchman claws back some of the deficit lost in the middle part of the season to have 123 points on the board. Still, likewise to Crutchlow and Petrucci, the Yamaha rider found the going tough in Buriram.

“It was pretty difficult,” confirmed the two-time Moto2™ World Champion. “I had to fight with Viñales at the beginning, I did a mistake, then I have to catch it back. I could not be close to them (leaders), the pace was good and then I saw Rins so I could push even more. I overtook Cal, Pedrosa crashed… it was a tough race. It was difficult for me but it was also difficult for them… I’m pretty happy because I’m not far from first, from the winner, and first Independent is good for the Championship.”  

A return to form for Zarco now begs the question: who will take the Independent Team honours by the time the chequered flag is waved in Valencia? Zarco claimed two podiums in the final four races of 2017 (P3 in Malaysia, P2 in Valencia), with Crutchlow racing to victory at Phillip Island in 2016. In addition, Petrucci secured a podium in Japan last season, so all three have previous good results at upcoming rounds.

This sets the scene for what looks like it could be a memorable battle between the trio. Three manufacturers, four races, five points: who wins? Only time will tell…

Watch every race LIVE & OnDemand and enjoy the whole video library, including technical features, exclusive interviews and classic races, with the MotoGP™ VideoPass