MotoGP Catalan Grand Prix
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
While this annual visit to Montmelo is a little later than the usual June timeslot, my older readers may remember that while it was added to the calendar in 1992, the Barcelona round, which was originally branded the European Grand Prix, followed by the current Catalan Grand Prix from 1996, was held in September-early October at the back end of the season, starting in 1994, until it was moved back to June in 1999, where it remained in normal circumstances.
Journey Of The Jackass, 2020, Chapter 9: Saint Joan of Suzuki, the late race Mir-acle worker
Just before I begin, another historical anniversary with an Australian twist – This week was 25 years since Mighty Mick Doohan won his second of five consecutive 500cc titles by leading home an Aussie 1-2 from Darryl Beattie in Argentina, a championship battle that lasted all season.
So it’s official – Valentino Rossi is making the step sideways (Although based on this year, UP) to Petronas Yamaha in 2021, and although he will race for the Malaysian team instead of the Factory team that he’s won 4 titles for, Rossi is still contracted to Yamaha as a factory rider, and will be getting a 2021-spec bike.
Still on Rossi, he also became the first rider to appear in 350 Premier Class races, another milestone for the Italian legend.
Marc Marquez also made his return to the paddock to talk to Repsol Honda about their rider-destroying RC213V, and hit the headlines when his comment “I especially expected much more from Quartararo” when talking about the Championship fight was taken out of context.
Further around the paddock, Cal Crutchlow was cleared to ride after sitting out Misano with forearm complications, but summing up Cal’s luck, he went for a routine COVID-19 test….
So Cal fractured his scaphoid bone at Jerez, his left forearm subsequently took on a mind of it’s own and needed surgery at Misano, and now he’s nearly crippled himself walking out of a hut.
And, after getting effectively taken out by Fabio Quartararo’s visor tear-off in Misano, Jack Miller clearly hadn’t forgotten about it, because that little gremlin had been taped to the Pramac pit wall….
So, if spending 4 figures on tiny plastic strips is your thing, then grab this piece of Grand Prix history!
For the second weekend in a row, both Jack Miller and Andrea Dovizioso missed the Top 10 in Combined Practice and went into Q1, joined by Pecco Bagnaia, a fate that didn’t strike 3 out of the 4 KTMs (Pol Espagaro, Brad Binder, Miguel Oliveira), as the only Dukes directly into Q2 were Danilo Petrucci and Johann Zarco, while both the LCR Hondas were sent to Q1 thanks to crashes in FP3, as riders tended to struggle for grip in the cooler temperatures and high winds.
It’s almost the same story every weekend for the Bologna Bullets – The GP20 just isn’t adapting to the gripper Michelin rear tyre like the inline-four Yamahas and Suzukis have, so much so the Dukes don’t have the confidence to run anything other than a Soft rear tyre under race conditions.
Based on practice, it looked like it was going to be another Yamaha-fest in Qualifying, as Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Vinales, Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi were all straight through to Q2.
He may have been straight into Q1 again, but just as he did in Misano II, Miller set the fastest time with a 1.39.399, the fastest time of the weekend up to that point in time, which only Taka Nakagami could get within 2-tenths of, sending them both into Q2.
Further down, Alex Rins was bumped to 13th by Taka’s last-second lap, Pecco could only qualify 14th, and in what felt like a hammer blow to his title hopes, Championship leader Dovi could only qualify 17th.
That was only his second-worst start of the year, behind the 18th at Brno.
When Q2 began, the Yamahas took over – Morbidelli set an early mark, Vinales and Rossi briefly took top spot, before Franco said relax and fired in a new weekend-best of 1.39.110, as Quartaro’s lap went away after a moment at Turn 10.
Eventually on the second runs, the French rider went fastest with a 1.39.008, which Morbidelli couldn’t match at first, but on his second run, the San Marino winner produced one of the laps of the year with a 1.38.798!
It was the only sub-99 second lap of the weekend, and it was a maiden MotoGP pole for Franco!
Viagra salesman Rossi jumped up from 7th to 3rd, his first front-row start of 2020, and with only one set of fresh Softs available, Miller was able to climb up to 4th, displacing Vinales to 5th and denying Yamaha another 1-2-3-4.
Johann Zarco’s 6th was his best start the Brno Pole Position, Joan Mir would have to concede ground to the leaders again by starting from 8th on the Suzuki, while the only other moment of note was that Miguel Olivera fell at Turn 10 and started 12th.
In fairness to Miguel, Turn 10 proved a major headache for riders in all 3 categories.
Race (24 Laps)
We’ve become so accustomed to a Barcelona race with clear blue skies in June, that it would’ve been a hit to the system racing in the coolest conditions all weekend – 17 degrees Celsius, and track temperatures of only 20 degrees, a major problem because Michelin had to select the tyre compounds based on historical weather patterns, which they’d figured would be 10 degrees warmer than they ended up being.
17 riders ran with the Michelin Soft front and rear (5 chose the Medium front) to try and make up the grip deficit, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if several riders fell because of a lack of heat in the tyres.
3pm arrived and the lights went out, as Morbidelli nailed the jump and led into Turn 1, Miller used the holeshot to take 2nd place, as the Ducati drama arrived after just 2 corners.
Starting from 9th, Petrucci had a moment in the middle of Turn 2, which caught out Johann Zarco, WHO LOST THE FRONT AND FELL…..
AND TOOK DOVI WITH HIM!
THE CHAMPIONSHIP LEADER WOULD BE LOSING HIS LEAD AFTER JUST 2 CORNERS!
That’s the price you pay for a piss poor Saturday.
Through the opening lap, Miller was passed by Rossi and Quartararo and settled in to 4th place, as Alex Rins was up to 6th place FROM 13TH, Bagnaia was in 9th, and Aleix Espagaro was in the Top 10 on the Aprillia!
Heading in the opposite direction, Vinales had a patchy start, getting forced wide by Alex Marquez, and had fallen from 5th to 16th!
One weekend Top Gun races like he’s kicked the tyres and lit the fires, and the next thing you know, he’s stranded on the tarmac.
So Morbidelli led from Rossi through the early stages, as Quartararo started setting fastest laps in 3rd, with Miller and Mir keeping a close watch in 4th and 5th.
Early on, it looked like the cloudy conditions were having no impact on lap times, because Miller had set a fastest lap that was only 2-tenths off Jorge Lorenzo’s 2018 lap record on a near full-tank of fuel.
Quartararo moved through on Rossi to claim 2nd to start Lap 6, putting the Petronas Yamahas 1-2, as Rins passed Pol Espagaro for 6th into Turn 1, and further down, Vinales was seemingly making next to no impression on Crutchlow in 14th.
The pivotal moment of the race was the exchange of the lead to start Lap 9, when Quartararo got the slipstream and passed Morbidelli into Turn 1, and from then on, the Frenchman never saw the exhaust pipe of another bike until just after the chequered flag.
Several people in the know had forecast that the Soft rear tyre would start to hit a wall on Lap 10-11, given it clearly wasn’t designed for these conditions, which was also the time Quartararo decided to push and build a gap, then hope he had enough edge grip to make the finish.
In the podium fight, Rossi had built a 1-second lead over Miller, who was starting to feel the tyre dropoff, as the race became more about survival than going balls out.
Further back, Espagaro had passed Petrucci for 7th to start Lap 13, but the Spaniard pushed the Red Bull KTM too hard into Turn 1, the grip suddenly disappeared, and he fell out of the race.
The cooler conditions on Sunday definitely brought the KTM down a peg, and the final results will back that up.
In the land of the matador, the Red Bulls were tamed.
Back to the front, and having been dropped by the Yamahas, Miller was now falling back into the clutches of Mir, as the GSX-RR was starting to hit it’s stride as the second half of the race began.
We got to about 10 laps to go and my plan was to start pushing on and trying to reel in those Yamahas, and then with about seven laps to go the rear tyre fell off a cliff and died in the arse, more or less.
I was a bit of a sitting duck from there, and the Suzuki boys, (Joan) Mir and (Alex) Rins, seemed to have more tyre life than the rest of us. As we were coming back in on the cool-down lap I noticed their tyres didn’t even have any lines on them, where mine and all the Yamahas did.
The Suzukis could have handled a few more laps, but I reckon the rest of us were pretty happy that it ended when it did.“A salvage day fighting for 5th in Barcelona“
With the Top 3 riders still covered by a second, Morbidelli had a massive front-end moment on Lap 14, sending him way too wide and almost off his Yamaha at Turn 1, but he escaped, albeit losing 2nd to Rossi.
To the shock of everyone, the Italians re-exchanged positions a few laps later, but not by a pass…..
On Lap 16, in an utter catastrophe on a par with the Titanic, Rossi, pushing hard to keep pace with Fabio, suddenly lost the front and fell going into Turn 2!
There were 42 crashes in Moto2 and MotoGP over the weekend – 18 were at Turn 2, and most of them were caused by a cooling front tyre.
Well, at least Vale had his half-brother Luca’s win in Moto2 to cheer him up.
That briefly promoted Miller up to 3rd, and I say briefly for good reason, because Mir didn’t even have to get aggressive to pass the Ducati Turn 10, after Jack had brief front end moment and went wide, but thankfully he stayed upright.
Rossi wouldn’t be the last rider to fall at Turn 2 – On Lap 19, Oliveira fell (For the fourth time in 3 days) from 10th place on the Tech3 KTM, promoting Vinales into the Top 10.
With a 3.2 second lead after Rossi went down, Quartararo had five fingerprints on his third win of 2020, as the battle for 2nd was now warming up, with the late race Mir-acle worker seemingly one of the only riders who still had any rear grip left.
You could see on the broadcast that Suzuki told Mir to go to Mapping 3 as he chased down Morbidelli – The equivalent of dropping a vial of blood in a shark’s nostrils.
As the race ticked past Lap 20 with the riders some 2 seconds slower than the early stages, Rins was getting ready to pass Miller and take 4th, which the Spaniard claimed at Turn 10, as Jack was doing a great job just staying upright and still within reasonable distance of the podium places, but a Top 3 finish just wasn’t to be.
Mir vs Moribelli was the highlight of the finale, as the Spaniard produced his latest ripsnorting finish to a race, gradually reeling in the 1.7 second gap between Laps 19-21, gaining the slipstream and attacking into Turn 1 on the penultimate lap, taking 2nd place from the Yamaha, who looked powerless to stop Rins from making it a Suzuki double podium.
That same lap, Rins took the incentive and ripped the soul out of Franco’s body with a crisp pass at Turn 10, dumping the Petronas Yamaha off a podium position that it had been on all afternoon, and all but guaranteeing the Spaniard of his first podium in over a year.
Unfortunately for the polesitter, his rear tyre had pretty much died of hypothermia in the cool conditions.
Quartararo started the final lap with a 2 second lead to Mir, as the Frenchman was also dealing with “Destroyed” tyres, and Miller was now being attacked by teammate Bagnaia, who still had to deal with Nakagami as both the Ducati and Yamaha finished the race strong.
Pecco had a run at Turn 1, but Jack maintained the inside line, and the Pramac teammates bumped elbows into Turn 2, and the Aussie won the day and held 5th.
Mir ripped a full second out of the lead on the last lap, but he was one of the few riders crying at seeing the chequered flag, as Quartararo took his first win since the Jerez double-header to reclaim the Championship lead, Mir and Rins capped off another fantastic race by Suzuki in 2nd and 3rd, Morbidelli just couldn’t make his tyre last, and our Jackass was back in the Top 5, on a day where it could have gone pear-shaped at any moment.
2 Petronas Yamahas, 2 Suzukis, and 2 Pramac Ducatis in the Top 6.
Showing the difference in tyre strategies converging, the Top 7 riders, from Quartararo to Taka in 7th, were split by only 3.7 seconds.
Crippled Cal Crutchlow in 10th – Super effort.
It was also the first time since Misano 2007 that Suzuki had 2 bikes on the podium – That time it was our own Chris Vermeulen and John Hopkins who finished 2nd and 3rd behind Casey Stoner, which is also the most recent instance of a MotoGP podium not featuring a European rider.
Mir is also the first Suzuki rider to claim a hat-trick of podiums since Kenny Roberts Jr in his 2000 title run, and once again, when you look at the difference in starting positions, if Suzuki manage to work out their one-lap pace on Saturday,
It was nice to see Rins give a salute to the mural of the late Luis Salom – For those of you who don’t know, Rins and Salom were teammates at Pons Racing in Moto2 in 2015, the year before Salom died in a practice accident at Catalunya.
Suzuki vs Yamaha in a title – What is this, Kevin Schwantz vs Wayne Rainey?
I noticed post-race that Maverick Vinales was lamenting the fact that “We simply lack power,” when referring to the Yamaha M1 fighting against other bikes.
Yes, the M1 has no power, despite winning on Sunday, and winning both races at Misano, and the very race it just took part in.
Forget about Top Gun, you know what a perfect nickname for Maverick is?
Because he doesn’t blossom unless things are perfect.
They use that joke about Sam Pang playing footy, and it’s perfect to describe Vinales riding.
Sort it out Maverick, those people you shushed are suddenly yapping again.
Next Up: France and Le Mans in the coming week.