Circuit: Motorland Aragon
Journey Of The Jackass 2020, Chapter 11: Alex Against Alex At Aragon
Starting off this week’s report, last Friday was a birthday for yours truly, but more topical for these reports, it was the 35th birthday for our MotoGP Legend, Casey Stoner!
Let me tell you, Casey winning the Australian Grand Prix and the 2011 Championship on the same day was quite a birthday.
Moving on, and after last weekend’s wet ‘n’ wild action at Le Mans, it was back to Spain for the 10th anniversary of Aragon joining the World Championship, and all these years later, the only non-Spanish winner at the track is still Casey Stoner, in 2010 and 2011.
Of course, as the season enters the final third of races, the massive shock of the weekend occurred on Thursday evening:
Valentino Rossi had tested positive for COVID-19, and will miss both races at Aragon.
Under Italian law, a person must isolate for 10 days from the moment of their positive test, which means the earliest Vale can return is the first Valencian round on the second weekend of November – the Factory Yamaha team will only enter one bike for the Teruel event next weekend.
With Marc Marquez still recovering, that meant there wasn’t a MotoGP World Champion on the grid – The last time that happened in the Premier Class was in 1999, when Mick Doohan suffered his career-ending leg injury at Jerez, a streak that started in France of that year, and ran until Alex Criville wrapped up the ’99 500cc title at Rio.
The other big problem to start the weekend was that the conditions at Aragon were so cold (The opening Moto3 session had track temperatures of just 9 degrees Celsius), that the FIM had to delay the opening MotoGP practice by 30 minutes just to let the track warm-up as the sun rose (The Michelins needed a minimum temperature of 12 degrees Celsius) and eventually the governing body decided to push the Saturday and Sunday sessions for all 3 classes back by an hour on safety grounds.
Also, in this Journey Of The Jackass, this weekend marked Jack Miller’s 150th Grand Prix!
His debut was aged 16 at Germany 2011 in the old 125cc category, the year he won the German IDM 125cc title, and jumped into Moto3 fulltime from 2012 onwards.
Practice & Qualifying
Once again, it seemed to be set for a weekend where the inline-four bikes would dominate, with all 3 Yamahas filling the Top 3 positions in combined practice, Suzuki finally got both bikes straight into Q2, while Honda’s upwards trend continued with the LCR Honda duo of Crutchlow and Nakagami going into Q2, with Alex Marquez following on his maiden MotoGP podium with his first Q2 appearance, Aleix Espagaro got an Aprilia into Q2…
And dear old Ducati had an awful run on Friday and Saturday morning in the cold & high winds, to the point that there wasn’t a single Bologna Bullet that progressed directly into Q2, a week after they’d had 3 bikes finish in the Top 5 at Le Mans, and a year after they got 2 bikes on the podium at Aragon.
Jack Miller would’ve been in the Top 10 in FP3, but he had a lap time deleted due to a yellow flag for Fabio Quartararo, who suffered a major highside at Turn 14, and luckily walked away with nothing more than a hobble for the rest of the weekend.
The Dukes would get some Q2 representation thanks to Miller and Le Mans winner Danilo Petrucci getting out of Q1, which left Andrea Dovizioso to start from 13th, and you couldn’t say with any confidence that Dovi would be up contending for a podium, let alone a win.
While they got through, Q2 was back to the story of practice, as Yamaha were on top with Quartararo dealing with the pain to take his 10th pole position in only 29 MotoGP races, and alongside El Diablo was the factory Yamaha of Maverick Vinales, while Cal Crutchlow got his first front-row start since America 2019, as Honda look like they’ve finally figured out the 2020 RC213V.
Franco Morbidelli made it 3 Yamahas in the Top 4, heading off the 2nd Row from Miller, who was once again the fastest Ducati, Joan Mir finally had a decent Qualifying and started 6th, Aleix Espagaro had a collision with brother Pol to end qualifying, but the Aprilia started a season-best 9th, the Spanish Alexs of Rins and Marquez were 10th and 11th, with Pol the best-placed KTM way down in 12th.
Race (23 Laps)
After dealing with Cold temperatures all weekend, Sunday afternoon featured the warmest conditions all weekend – 21 degrees Celsius in the air, and track temperatures of 31 Celsius, which were just on the perfect conditions for the Michelins to operate.
Most of the field went for the Soft rear and the Medium front, while Vinales, Bradley Smith, both Suzukis, and both Red Bull KTMs went Soft-Soft, but what was most interesting was that all four riders on the Ducati GP20s (Dovi, Petrucci, Miller and Bagnaia) went the Medium-Medium combination, the only riders to take on the Medium rear tyre, with the expectation that the Michelin Soft rear would go sour late in the race, as it had done just about everywhere this season.
Usually you’d see the Ducatis going for the Softs and Suzuki going the Medium… what an age we live in.
Once 3:00 struck and the race started, the Yamahas jumped 1-2-3, as Morbidelli briefly led before running wide and dropping to 3rd behind Vinales and Quartararo, Rins had a blinder of an opening corner and swooped down the outside from 10th to 4th ahead of Miller, Dovi was up from 13th to 9th, and without a holeshot, Crutchlow disappeared, falling down to 12th.
Vinales immediately began pulling away as the Petronas Yamahas fought away, Mir and Miller scrapped away for 5th position, and starting Lap 2, Alex Marquez had passed Dovi and was up to 8th place!
Further down, having been unsighted all weekend and starting from 17th, Bagnaia’s race ended at Turn 5 on Lap 3, ending what he had previously described as an “Unmitigated disaster” of a weekend.
Funnily enough, that was the only retirement of the race.
Mir had to work hard a bit harder than usual to pass Miller for 5th and start to back the deficit to Quartararo, and proving last week wasn’t some flash in the pan, Marquez suddenly looked like a seasoned MotoGP rider, passing Nakagami for 7th to become the leading Honda on track, and further to it, he was consistently setting fastest laps!
Meantime, the KTMs didn’t seem to have anything – The factory bikes of Pol Espagaro and Brad Binder were down in 14th and 15th, line astern with the Tech3 bikes of Miguel Oliveira and Iker Lecuona in 16th and 17th.
Ending Lap 5, Quartararo went wide off the final corner, promoting Rins to 2nd place, and Marquez swept by Miller on Lap 6, but the Aussie responded with the Ducati power down the back straight, only for the Repsol Honda to cut straight back up the inside into Turn 16.
Now in clear air, Rins had ripped out 6-tenths into Vinales’ lead to close right up to the Yamaha’s rear wheel, and in a sign that things were going south for the leading bike on the grid, Morbidelli passed Quartararo on Lap 7, Fabio responded up the back straight, but they both out-braked themselves, ran wide, and through went Joan Mir into 3rd place!
The old saying of killing two birds with one stone.
Everything was coming up Suzuki, and on Lap 8, Rins made the pass for the lead on Vinales, and from then on, Alex never had another bike in front of him.
A few seconds behind, Marquez kept up his charge through the field, swooping by Quartararo with another Turn 16 move, as Fabio started losing more points to Mir in the Championship.
The big question on Alex was could he keep the tyres going and sustain this pace, and the immediate question was yes, because he left Morbidelli for dead to end Lap 9, moving up to 4th place, being the only rider still lapping in the 1m 48s range!
Apparently the Marquez family is rather good in this part of the world…
You could’ve fooled me.
For reasons unknown (At the time), Quartararo was in huge tyre trouble, because Nakagami was all over the back of the Yamaha, which couldn’t hold its normal line, and once Taka was through on the Frenchman to end Lap 10, the Ducatis were going to absolutely rip the Yamaha a new one down the back straight.
As it turned out, Jack passed Fabio before the back straight, Dovi was easily through, Crutchlow joined in on Lap 13, then Zarco to punt him out of the Top 10, and combined with Mir getting through on Vinales for 2nd on Lap 13, not only were Suzuki eyeing off their first Premier Class 1-2 in some 38 years, Mir was in position to lead the World Championship!
Quartararo still wasn’t done getting crap shoveled on him from heaven above, because Petrucci and the Esapagaro brothers went Es-barge-aro on him, then Binder, and finally Miguel Oliveira dumped the Yamaha out of the points.
Not-So Fabulous Fabio once again.
Looking at tyre performance, the Soft rear tyre was holding up better than it had all season, while the Ducatis on the Mediums weren’t making up any ground at all.
Nakagami on the Soft rear had comfortably beaten off Miller’s challenge, Dovi was through on the Pramac Ducati, and even Johann Zarco, who had run the soft rear on the year-old Duke, was finishing well, and was actually ahead of Miller on Lap 20.
With 6 laps to go, the gap between leader Rins, Mir and Marquez was only 6-tenths, and the Repsol Honda still had plenty to give, because Marquez gave Mir a taste of his own medicine at the sweeping Turns 16-17 to end Lap 18, prolonging the Suzuki wait for a 1-2 finish, and from 11th on the grid, Marquez a very realistic shot of taking the win from Rins, his old teammate and rival from the days of Moto3 in 2014!
On Lap 19, as Julià Marquez nervously tap-danced in the Honda garage, his son cut down the gap to Rins by 4-tenths, while Mir dropped back and started to hit tyre trouble, which was inviting Vinales back for a late shot at 3rd.
Further down, there was an incident between Petrucci and Pol Espagaro, which resulted in Petrucci losing some 4 spots to leave him 15th, which was where the Italian finished.
As Marquez kept the pressure on, his charge took a hit when he had a major wobble and almost highsided in the mid-corner of Turn 17, then went wide at Turn 1 to start Lap 22 while pushing so hard, giving Rins the slight gap he needed to feel more comfortable.
Marquez attacked again, but he just couldn’t get close enough, as Rins brought home Suzuki’s first win for 2020, their first win since Silverstone last season, 2-tenths ahead of Marquez, who produced another fantastic ride for his first dry podium to go with his wet podium last weekend, Mir did hold on for 3rd to take the Championship lead, and Vinales still can’t get a MotoGP podium at Aragon, finishing 4th in the race for the fourth time in 5 years.
As we say at the Waterford TAB…. ****in’ 4th again!
Crucially, he’s still right in the title race.
Nakagami passed Morbidelli out of the last corner to finish in 5th, the best of the independent riders, Dovi was 7th, Crutchlow recovered to 8th, while Miller couldn’t make the Medium rear tyre work and came home 9th, getting back in front of Zarco in the final corners.
Mir becomes the first Suzuki rider to lead the Premier Class championship since Kenny Roberts Jnr won the 2000 500cc title.
So, in the space of 7 days, having finally tamed the most volatile bike on the grid, Alex Marquez has pretty much validated himself as a MotoGP rider.
It should be noted that he’s now tied his 2019 Moto2 title rival Brad Binder in the standings for Rookie Of The Year on 67 points apiece, which would be a damn fine turnaround for Alex, considering how far apart they looked when Brad at Brno.
A well-earned win for Rins, in a year where he busted his shoulder in the season opener.
In this wild old shindig of a MotoGP season, that’s now 8 different winners in 10 races, and summing up 2020, the rider leading the Championship still hasn’t won a race since he was in Moto3 in 2017, Dovi is only 21 points behind, having not seen the podium for 2 months, and Taka Nakagami, only 29 points behind in 5th, hasn’t even stood on the podium this season.
And, in this the centenary year of Suzuki, not only have they rejoined the winners list, they’re now leading the Riders’ Championship, AND, they’re now leading the Teams’ Championship from Petronas Yamaha, having hauled back 31 points on Sunday.
The GSX-RR may be the slowest bike in a straight line, but the evidence shows that it’s by far the most tyre-friendly bike on the 2020 set of Michelin tyres, which is making all the difference in the corners.
While Jack and the Ducatis probably just made the wrong tyre choice, the crux of Fabio Quartararo’s problems were threefold:
He hadn’t used the Medium front tyre all weekend before the race, so the team had to guesstimate what pressure to set the front tyre to without a solid data reference.
They went on the high side, only for Sunday afternoon to feature the warmest track temperatures all weekend, and that front pressure became so high that the Yamaha became borderline unrideable the moment Fabio started to push, he plummeted down the order, and ended up without any useable Medium tyre data for Aragon II.
What a cock-up.
Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster
A week after claiming his first win in 4 years, Sam Lowes started from pole position for the first time in 4 years, although it should be noted that he also qualified fastest in San Marino, but started from the pit lane because of an irresponsible riding penalty.
The Brit would be joined on the front row by Marco Bezzecchi and Fabio Di Giannantonio, who set a new Moto2 lap record in FP3, while title rivals Luca Marini and Enea Bastianini started down in 7th and 12th respectively, and from a Green & Gold pint of view, Remy Gardner started from 10th
Race (21 Laps)
Starting the race from 6th, Jorge Navarro fell off his Speed-Up in the mid-pack of Turn 1 after colliding with Marcos Ramirez, leaving him vulnerable to getting hit by oncoming riders, and the Spaniard did have his legs clipped by Lorenzo Baldassarri, but thankfully he was able to get up and return to the garage.
Barely 2 laps later, title leader Marini crashed out at Turn 14 with Bastianini right behind him, blowing the Championship race open again, because Bezzecchi was in position to take the championship lead.
On Lap 10, Di Giannantonio, who had passed Lowes, passed Bezzecchi for the lead at Turn 15, but starting Lap 11, ‘Diggia’ didn’t even get the chance to build his lead, because the Italian lost the weight in the front end and fell at Turn 2, sending the Speed-Up into a spectacular flying exit, and continuing what has been a season full of heartbreak and disappointment.
So Bezzecchi and Lowes resumed the Top 2 places, but behind them, Jorge Martin and Ennea Bastianini were starting to enter the fight for the lead as the fuel loads dropped.
Still, after closing to within a second of Lowes, the leaders soon dropped both riders again, and the gap was back out beyond 2.5 seconds, as Bastianini and Martin swapped the final podium position several times, which didn’t really help either of their slim chances of winning.
The pattern up front seemed to be that Lowes would close up to Bezzecchi in Sectors 1 & 2, then they would get to the Aragon Wall at Turn 14, and the Sky VR46 bike would take off down the back straight and build the gap again.
Further back inside the Top 10, Jake Dixon and Remy Gardner had hardly been noted by Matt Birt and Steve Day in the commentary box, with Dixon running in a lonely 5th, as Gardner he scrapped away with Hector Garzo for 6th and 7th.
I thought it was a well-measured ride by Remy – He didn’t have the pace to challenge for a podium with the older Kalex, but his last 13 laps were all in the 1m53s range, which comfortably kept in the Top 10.
So as the afternoon progressed, just when it seemed Bezzecchi (Who led by 8-tenths of a second) had beaten off the challenge of Lowes, and the Sky VR46 team would be back on the top step in Moto2…
Starting Lap 20, BEZZECCHI WENT SLIGHTLY WIDE AND FELL AT TURN 2, AND WITH MARTIN PASSING BASTIANINI, NOW IT WAS GOING TO BE SAM LOWES LEADING THE CHAMPIONSHIP!
What a great weekend for Valentino Rossi – He contracts COVID-19 and has to isolate at home, Yamaha don’t even get on the podium, and both his Moto2 riders end the afternoon on their haunches.
That also meant for the second weekend running, Lowes was on to inherit a win thanks to a leader falling, but he didn’t get the title lead, because Bastianini produced a lovely cutback move on Martin at Turn 13 to take 2nd place, giving him the Championship lead by 2 points, and while the Italian celebrated that, Lowes crossed the line for his second consecutive Moto2 win!
Fancy that, he can’t win for 4 years, and now he’s gone back to back in a week.
Combined with Jonathan Rea wrapping up his 6th consecutive World Superbike Championship, it wasn’t a half-bad weekend for British motorcycle racing.
Further down, Jake Dixon got over last week’s anguish and finished a career-best 4th, while Gardner got past Garzo on the last lap and claimed another Top 5 finish in 2020, pushing him up to 8th place overall, but up the front, if you thought the MotoGP title race was damn close…
The Top 3 in Moto2 are now split by only 5 POINTS!
A quick note from Moto3
Jaume Masia claimed his maiden win in the lightweight class – From 17th on the grid if you don’t mind – and in the process, became the 100th rider to win a Grand Prix for Honda.
I say that because the first rider to win for the Japanese heavyweights was an Australian, way back in 1961.
New South Welshman Tom Phillis won the 1961 125cc Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuïc, also becoming the first rider to win a Grand Prix on a Japanese machine, and eventually won the ’61 125cc title, Honda’s first title in the World Championship, beating the famed German rider Ernst Degner, who had defected from East to West Germany that year, and missed the last 2 races, which absolutely cost him the title to Phillis.
Phillis also finished 2nd to Mike Hailwood in the 250cc Championship that season, also while riding a Honda, and capping off the year, Phillis won in both the 125cc and 250cc at the season-ending Argentine Grand Prix, the first World Championship Grand Prix held outside of Europe.
Sadly, Mat Oxley’s Tweet tells the story – Phillis died racing in the 350cc Junior TT at the Isle Of Man in 1962, aged just 28, which also led to the immediate two-wheeled retirement of reigning 350cc and 500cc World Champion Garry Hocking, who instead tried following John Surtees into Formula One…
Only to die in a crash preparing for the non-championship Natal Grand Prix, on December 22, 1962, aged just 25.
Gardner, Doohan, Stoner, Miller, Phillis – The five Australians to win a Grand Prix for Honda.
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