Circuit: Motorland Aragon
Journey Of The Jackass 2020, Chapter 12: The Terror Of Teruel
Part 2 of the Aragon doubleheader for the inaugural ‘Teruel’ Grand Prix, named after the historical province of Aragon in which the Motorland is located – Alternatively, it was called the Alcañiz Grand Prix by MotoGP’s social media hashtag, in reference to the nearby town, which is 113km away from the actual city of Teruel.
On a sad note, Friday was another anniversary – 9 years to the day that ‘SuperSic’ Marco Simoncelli died in an accident during the Malaysian Grand Prix, a mere week after he’d finished 2nd at Phillip Island, which was his best MotoGP result.
Sic will never be forgotten for several reasons – The Misano circuit was renamed in his memory, the No.58 was retired from MotoGP and given to the Simoncelli family, he was inducted into the MotoGP Hall of Fame, and his dad Paolo runs the Sic58 Squadra in Moto3, nurturing young Italian riders.
Looking at the fight for the 2020 premier class title with only 4 races to go, and after Joan Mir assumed the Championship lead last Sunday, the MIND GAMES have started between the Suzuki rider and Fabio Quartararo, which included Mir and teammate Alex Rins not pushing in practice when they knew Fabio was behind them, and I get the sense Fabio needs to do a bit of work building a poker face, because he mentioned that “The pressure is not on me” during the Thursday press conference, but the look on his face suggested that even he wasn’t buying what came out of his mouth.
Meantime, Stefan Bradl sparked interest when he mentioned on German channel Servus TV that he’d been informed he’d be riding for the remainder of the season with Honda (Which he later claimed was just his opinion), sparking the talk that Marc Marquez wouldn’t be making his comeback in the final 3 races, possibly giving creedence to the rumour that Marquez needed a third arm surgery, which was apparently poppycock in Alberto Puig’s mind, as he remained tight-lipped to Simon Crafar.
And lastly, Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta confirmed that the final 3 rounds of the season (Europe, Valencia & Portugal) in Valencia and Portimao would be going ahead, despite the surge in positive COVID-19 cases in Spain and Portugal, which has forced a new state of emergency in Spain, although as has been the norm all season, the Spanish rounds will not have fans in attendance.
Takaaki Nakagami started the weekend with the news that he’d be getting a factory Honda in 2021, a just reward for his consistency this year on a 2019-spec RC123V, then he set the fastest time on Friday, and to cap off a great 24 hours, Taka took his first MotoGP pole position, the first MotoGP pole for a Japanese rider since Makoto Tamada at Motegi in 2004, which is also the last time a Japanese rider won a MotoGP race.
Franco Morbidelli was the fastest Yamaha ahead of Maverick Vinales and Quartararo, Alex Rins put himself in a great position to claim back-to-back Aragon victories with a front row start, Johann Zarco outqualified all the factory Ducatis on his GP19 to start 5th, Alex Marquez and Cal Crutchlow made it 3 Hondas in the Top 10, KTM made good strides after last week’s quiet result (The warmer conditions helped) with 3 bikes appearing in Q2, including both Tech3 riders (Iker Lecuona had his maiden Q2 appearance), while Mir was conceding a start to his title rivals once again, stuck down in 12th after barely making the Top 10 in practice.
Jack Miller had already given up any chance of winning the title before Aragon, and just to make it even better, any chance of a race win, let alone a podium, was toast on Saturday afternoon after he was left to start from 14th and out in Q1 for the first time since Brno, and summing up the struggles of Ducati, he was outqualified by Aleix Espargaro’s Aprilia, but was still faster than Andrea Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci and Pecco Bagnaia on the other Dukes (Plus Tito Rabat), who all would’ve missed Q2 even if a freak bolt of lightning had wiped out half the field.
All day Saturday I was losing grip coming into the corners, the last corner especially, and I was still pretty much scratching my head after qualifying.
In the long left-handers like the last corner, the others just seemed to have way more grip than I had at any stage on corner entry – I was a bit surprised that we hadn’t made much progress since we were here a week ago, I felt I was riding at the limit, but clearly that limit wasn’t good enough.
I just didn’t have any feeling whatsoever.“Short Not Sweet At Teruel GP” -jackmiller43.com.au
If history is any guide, I imagine the Corse’s management are going to blame everyone except themselves for the performance of the GP20; Their riders for not being good enough, Michelin for designing a terrible rear tyre, the track conditions, mechanical reliability, everything bar the fact that they’ve designed a plastic fork to compete in a gun fight.
Race (23 Laps)
With the extra data from last weekend to use in tyre choices, there was more variance in tyre choices; The Petronas SRT riders went for Medium/Medium, Rins stuck with his race-winning Soft/Soft combination again, the Medium/Soft was the most common combination, while Alex Marquez was the true eye-raiser, going for the seldom-used Hard front tyre.
With the race starting early to avoid a clash with Formula One, it produced one of the more dramatic opening laps of 2020.
Out of Turn 1, Nakagami maintained the lead from Morbidelli, who collided with Rins off the start line and again exiting Turn 1, but Franco took 2nd, while in the midpack, Jack Miller’s race was done by Turn 2 after being taken out by a careless Brad Binder, who carried too much speed and drove his KTM straight into the back of the Ducati, putting both riders out of the race, resulting in the stewards issuing the apologetic South African with a Long Lap Penalty for the first race in Valencia in a fortnight.
Given the Springboks are now out of the Rugby Championship, MotoGP is one of the few places where an Aussie and a South African can still collide.
More importantly to the race, barely 30 seconds later, with the riders on cold tyres and full tanks of fuel…
TAKA WENT SLIGHTLY WIDE AND FELL AT TURN 5!
The fastest rider all weekend, the dream day for his maiden podium seemingly set up… and he’s done after 1 sector.
Funnily enough, that also meant every non-European rider on the grid was out on Lap 1.
Thus, Morbidelli assumed the lead from Rins, starting a fight that lasted all race, Zarco was now 3rd on the Avintia Ducati, Vinales was 4th, and Mir had rocketed up to 5th, ahead of Quartararo!
Now behind his main rival, Fabio found himself struggling to keep the Hondas of Crutchlow and Marquez behind, with Marquez passing both of them to start Lap 4, and in what was an ominous sign for the Top 5, Marquez on the Hard front got within a tenth of surpassing Jorge Lorenzo’s 2015 race record of 1.48.120, which fell on Lap 5 when Morbidelli set a 1.48.089.
Ducati’s misery wasn’t finished when Bagnaia entered the pits on Lap 5 and retired with some kind of mechanical problem, making Teruel the third time this season that both Pramac Ducatis have retired.
Bodes very well for the factory team in 2021 with Jack and Pecco moving up.
Mir made the move on Vinales at Turn 13 on Lap 6, and the charging Marquez sliced up the inside of the factory Yamaha through Turns 14-15, and the Spaniards immediately put a gap on their compatriot and set off after Zarco.
Meantime, Quartararo was doing pretty well to keep Pol Espargaro behind him, but that said, he was making up ground on Vinales, who seemed to be enjoying his usual boring Sunday performance of not threatening for a win.
It was also around this point in the race that Cal Crutchlow, in his words, “Snapped something in his right shoulder” as he was changing direction between Turns 3 and 4, although he was still able to race on through the discomfort.
Good lord, by this point in the year, Cal is more injury than man.
Pol finally passed Quartararo for 7th to start Lap 10, and it felt like a matter of time before Miguel Oliveira swept past the Yamaha, in what was looking like being a good day for KTM, as they made the most of the slightly warmer conditions than last week.
Still within half a second of each other, Morbidelli and Rins extended the gap to 3rd out past 2 seconds starting Lap 11, a message that apparently got to Mir, because he ranged up and passed Zarco’s Ducati for 3rd at Turn 4, inviting Marquez to attack Zarco, but the Frenchman was able to use the straightline speed of the Duke to get back ahead of the Repsol Honda with a block pass to start Lap 12, before Marquez finally cleared him at the same corner Mir had the previous lap.
It was worth noting that even with the Medium tyre against the Soft, Franco was having no issue maintaining the gap to Rins at around 6-tenths of a second, and with no sign of a drop-off, the Italian was easily going to have the grip advantage in the closing laps, setting things up very nicely for Petronas Yamaha to claim their fifth win of the year.
The same couldn’t be said for Fabio, who once again just couldn’t make the Medium tyre work, even after figuring out the right tyre pressure after last week’s brain fast, and as the race ticked past half-race distance, just ahead of the Yamaha-KTM fight, completing Honda’s miserable afternoon…
Alex Marquez suffered a lowside on the Hard front, and crashed out from 4th at Turn 2 on Lap 14!
A strange afternoon complete, as Nakagami and Marquez, the only riders who had finished every race in 2020, were both out from Top 4 positions.
It’s back to the Marc-less arse kicking for HRC.
Oliveira finally cleared Fabio for 7th place on Lap 15, another point swing the way of Mir, but despite being in position to build his championship, the Suzuki rider wasn’t making any headway into the gap to Rins, which now stood at 3 seconds, while in the midpack, Pol Espargaro was within 1.2 seconds of Vinales, while Dovi, who had hardly been sighted in the last fortnight, was now up to 9th place after passing Crutchlow.
Unfortunately for the Italian veteran, that was a high as he would climb all afternoon, because along came Aleix Espargaro in the Aprilia with a fine aggressive pass into Turn 1, forcing Dovi out wide, then he went wide again into the reverse corkscrew at Turns 8-9, and lost another 2 spots to fall to 12th, coughing up more points.
I believe we can say that this was the day Desmo Dovi’s dream died.
Lap 16 proved the decisive lap for the race, as Morbidelli started to put his tyre advantage to good effect and absolutely bolted, and by the end of Lap 18, the lead was out past 1 second, with a pair of 1m 48s laps breaking the back of the Suzuki, who was probably accepting that he’d been beaten fair and square by the inch perfect Italian.
Meantime, Vinales started to hit the wall of tyre life, seeing Pol Espargaro break away from him lap by lap, Top Gun was passed by Oliveira into Turn 16-17 on Lap 18, the same move he’d put on Quartararo, dumping the only factory Yamaha down to 7th place.
KTM’s turnaround was looking like it would end with 2 bikes in the Top 5, as Pol Espargaro passed Zarco for 4th place into Turn 1 to start Lap 21, but Oliveira just couldn’t get past the Ducati rider, who never dropped out of the Top 5 all day, in what was a very solid performance on the older bike.
Aleix Espargaro’s promising day came to a shattering end on Lap 21, as he suffered mechanical failure heading into Turn 16, losing Aprilia a Top 10 position, while on the opposite spectrum, Iker Lecuona had worked his way into the Top 10, and was looking good for his best finish since his 10th in the Styrian Grand Prix.
But out in front, it was SAMBA TIME for Franco, who took his second win of 2020 to close to within 25 points of the championship lead, Rins made it a 1st and a 2nd in the Aragon doubleheader, Mir’s consistency came to the fore again to claim his 6th podium in 8 races, giving Suzuki their third double podium finish in 5 races, and extending his championship lead to 14 points over Quartarro, who couldn’t quite reign in Vinales, who now sits 16 behind.
In this ever-weird battle of the energy drink sponsored riders, it was Monster who once again had the edge over Red Bull, and there’s a few folks in Austria who won’t be liking that bit of news.
Pol Espargaro ended KTM’s fortnight with a fine 4th, Zarco spared Ducati from having a complete and utter wipeout with that 5th placing, Olievira was back in the Top 6, Lecuona equalled his best result of the year with 9th, and capping off Dovi’s afternoon, not only did teammate Petrucci box him out of the Top 10, Crutchlow and Stefan Bradl sent him tumbling down to 13th, only ahead of Tito Rabat and Bradley Smith, as all finishers scored points.
FRANCO MORBIDELLI – THE TERROR OF TERUEL.
So as we end the month of October before the visit to Valencia, with 3 rounds to go, Joan Mir is in position to do what no Premier Class champion has ever done, and that’s win a World Championship without winning a race.
In fact, it’s only happened twice in Grand Prix history, both by Spaniards – Manuel Herreros won the last 80cc World Championship in 1989 over the also-winless Stefan Dörflinger, and most recently in 1999, when Emilio Alzamora won the 125cc title by a point to Marco Melandri, thanks to racking up 10 podiums compared to 5 wins to Melandri, who did miss 2 races during the season.
I’d honestly back him in to win the thing, because right now he has what Quartararo and Vinales don’t, and that’s consistency.
Putting on my Aussie-Coloured glasses, Jack’s horrendous run of luck means he’s gone from having a shot at finishing in the Top 5 of the Championship to potentially missing the Top 10, because Olviveira in 10th is now on 79 points, just 3 behind the Queenslander, and Petrucci in 10th is on 71.
3 out of the last 5 races, it’s been a goddamn visor tearoff, a dodgy engine shit itself when he was looking a serious chance of winning, and now it’s South Africans charging up his rear end.
Chances are Valencia won’t be any better.
Meantime, it looks like Yamaha will pretty easily win their first Constructors’ Championship since 2016, but in the Teams Championship, Suzuki’s double podium maintained their lead in the Teams’ Championshp
Next Up: The European Grand Prix at Valencia on November 8