Motorsport

Motorsport Monday: Valencian MotoGP

An Italian on a Yamaha vs an Australian on a Ducati for a MotoGP win… when have I heard this before

All images/GIFs belong to Dorna Sport.


Valencian Community Motorcycle Grand Prix


Circuit Ricardo Tormo, Valencia

By the Honda Racing Corporation

Say, this looks awfully similar to the track for the European Grand Prix…


Journey Of The Jackass 2020, Chapter 14: A Mir Formality/****in’ Nearly, Part 2

In the original timeline of the universe, Valencia would’ve marked the end of the MotoGP season, but as it stands, Part 2 of the Ricardo Tormo double-header was the penultimate round, and since Joan Mir put 6 fingerprints on the Championship with his win last weekend, my goodness, what a week it’s been for MotoGP news:

Andrea Dovizioso confirmed he’s rejected several contract offers and will take a sabbatical in 2021.

Marc Marquez confirmed he won’t be back for the last fortnight of 2020, and there was a theory that the 6-time champion may need MORE SURGERY on his humerus, such was the apparent botch job on the first surgery, plus the rushed comeback at Jerez that stressed the injury.

Andrea Iannone’s career is pretty much done after he was banned for 4 years by WADA for a positive drug test, following a hearing at Court of Arbitration for Sport that upheld an appeal by the Anti-Doping authority, after Iannone was originally banned for 18 months by the FIM back in March, leaving a seat open at Aprilia.

Cal Crutchlow will be reuniting with Yamaha as their 2021 Test rider, confirming that the 35-year-old Brit will be stepping down from full-time riding after 9 years in MotoGP.

It also looked like we might be losing Valentino Rossi to another positive COVID-19 test, but thankfully The Doctor’s second test came back negative, but unfortunately for Iker Lecuona, after being cleared to return on Saturday for Tech 3 KTM, he tested positive on Saturday morning, ruling him out for the weekend, and with the isolation period overlapping with Portugal next weekend, that’s probably his season done.

Goodness me, what a week.


Qualifying


Jack Miller comfortably reached Q2 with the fastest time in FP2 on Friday, which was good enough for 2nd overall on the Combined timesheets behind the lightning fast Franco Morbidelli, who was almost half a second faster (0.454s) than the entire field on the 2019 Yamaha M1, with the pair being joined by the Ducatis of Pecco Bagnaia and Johann Zarco (Neither factory Duke made the Top 10), the KTMs of Pol Espargaro and Miguel Oliveira, the factory Yamaha of Maverick Vinales, Takaaki Nakagmi carried the Honda flag, and Aleix Espargaro once again got his Aprilia into Q2.

In the Championship battle, Joan Mir (Who crashed on Friday) got straight into Q2 with a late flyer in FP3 to put him 7th overall, and that was big, because Fabio Quartararo would have to go into Q1 for the first time in his MotoGP career after missing 10th overall (Aleix Espargaro) by a minuscule 0.002s, and Alex Rins would join the Frenchman in the opening session after only managing 15th fastest, alongside fellow rabble Rossi and Dovizioso.

In Q1, just as the TV directors focused on Brad Binder’s KTM following Alex Marquez, the Repsol Honda rider suffered a violent highside at the Turn 11 hairpin, getting flipped through the air and landing flat on his arse, in an incident that many experts noted resembled the bad old days of 500cc highsides.

Somehow, Marquez got up and jumped ‘straight back on the horse’ with 4 minutes remaining, but it made no difference with how much pain he was in, and the Spaniard started 20th, and would need a medical test before the race.

It would be Binder and Quartararo who comfortably escaped Q1, being the only riders to get under a 1.31 lap, as Rins saw his title chances wrecked by spitting rain on the circuit to leave him starting 14th, with Valentino Rossi 15th, and Dovi, having been nowhere all day, was stuck down in 17th.

With the heavy hitters coming up in Q2, that spitting rain made me optimistic that Miller could be fighting for pole, with how much he revels in mixed conditions.

Q2 was a ‘funny’ session, as the 3 Yamahas sat 1-2-3 after the opening 5 minutes, with each rider briefly holding top spot and demanding the FIM stop the count, then halfway through the session, Oliveira went top, then Binder went even better and went top for a KTM 1-2, and sending Austria into delirium, with 3:15 to go, Pol Espargaro went 2nd, and it was briefly a KTM 1-2-3!

It was only fleeting, because seconds after Pol’s lap, Vinales flew in to take back top spot with a 1.30.645, then up stepped Miller, who fired in a massive 1.30.287 to go fastest while the grid positions went flying, as Quartararo and Binder didn’t have another set of Soft tyres to use thanks to the Q1 appearance, which sent them tumbling down the grid.

Miller’s time looked mighty hard to beat, but it STILL wasn’t good enough for pole, because Franco Morbidelli hooked up a fantastic lap with 2 minutes to go, and after going fastest in FP3, the Italian dropped the hammer and took Pole Position with a 1.30.191, 0.096s ahead of the Ducati, with Nakagami’s final lap getting his Honda on the front row once again.

Setting up the title race, Quartararo was stuck down in 11th , Mir was slowest in Q2, and Rins was probably licking his lips knowing he was right behind the pair of them – Still, it set up very well for Mir to seal the title on Sunday.

As it had been all weekend, Franky was by far the fastest Yamaha rider on the 2019 M1, which probably gave weight to some recent comments Valentino Rossi made about the performance of the 2020 Yamaha compared to the older-spec bike.

A far cry from last week, where Morbidelli suffered badly from skyrocketing front tyre pressures and could only finish 11th in the race, the first time Yamaha didn’t have a bike finish in the Top 10 since Valencia 2007.


Race (27 Laps)


Interestingly, the only riders who didn’t go for the Michelin Hard front tyre were Jack Miller and Maverick Vinales, who both went Medium/Medium, so as per usual, the start for Jack would be key in order to manage the tyres.

At lights out, Miller nailed the holeshot and took the lead, but he braked too deep into Turn 1 and gave the lead back to Franco and 2nd to Pol Espargaro (Who was ahead of Nakagami and Zarco), but the Aussie was back ahead of Pol by Turn 3, while Quartararo got cramped for room and tried to thread the needle between Vinales and Mir, and he flew off the track at Turn 2, dropping the Frenchman down to last.

Just behind the Top 4, Oliveira was up to 5th, Rins went from 14th to 7th, and Mir was a comfortable 10th, while Vinales had dropped to 13th, running just in front of Rossi.

With the warmer conditions, the leaders were already faster than last week’s race, with Morbidelli trying to break the back of Miller with repeat 1.31.4 laps, probably trying to get him to chew up the Medium front early on, which Jack has sometimes had a tendency to do, much to his detriment.

Pecco Bagnaia’s hopes of a podium were absolutely done when he went way too wide into Turn 1 on Lap 4, dropping out of the Top 10, and after getting back ahead of Rins after being passed for 6th, Zarco fell at Turn 1 on Lap 6 after asking too much of the front tyre.

Showing what the Yamaha can do with nobody in front of it, Morbidelli was absolutely flying and extended the gap to Miller by 7 tenths on Lap 7, Pol Espargaro was just behind the Aussie and clear in 3rd from Oliveira and Nakagami, as Rins was now starting to pull clear from Aleix Espargaro and Mir.

After fighting his way back through the field, Quartararo dropped back to 18th after a bad Lap 7, but just to make sure he was well and truly dead and buried, the Frenchman fell at Turn 6 on Lap 9, and after starting the year with a maximum 50 points from the opening 2 races, El Diablo’s title hopes were banished to hell.

With the way Fabio has fallen off a cliff under pressure, he’s going to be lucky to even finish in the Top 6 overall come next week, a stunning thought after the events of July.

Nakagami passed Oliveira for 4th at the final corner of Lap 10, finally freeing up the Honda, which gave Rins the chance to pass the Tech 3 KTM, and meantime, Mir didn’t get by Aleix Espargaro for 8th until Lap 11, but it was another point for the Suzuki, who wasn’t taking any risks, and was still in championship-winning position with Rins off the podium.

Morbidelli stretched his lead out to 1.1 seconds at half-race distance, as his pace just didn’t drop out of the 1m31s lap times at all, although Jack was keeping him very honest, and interestingly, Nakagami was coming at Pol Espargaro big time, having cut the deficit from 2 seconds to under 1 second in the space of 5 laps, as the factory KTM started to fall behind the Top 2.

With 10 laps to go, Miller set the fastest lap with a 1.31.378 and cut the gap back down to 7-tenths, as Nakagami had now caught up to Espargaro and had that maiden podium in his sights, and Binder caught the fading Oliveira for 6th.

But, summing up how cursed Taka is, on Lap 19, he got a superb run on Pol out of Turn 13 and went up the inside at the last turn…

BUT THE FRONT WASHED AWAY UNDER BRAKING, AND DOWN WENT TAKA!

OH NO!

Another maiden podium chance lost…. the sad part was Taka probably could’ve waited and blasted past down the pit straight with the tow and the rear grip advantage he had.

With Rins and Binder now 1.3 seconds back and seemingly not making enough inroads, that meant Pol was pretty well set for another podium, as Suzuki started counting down the laps to the coronation of Joan Mir.

Despite Morbidelli riding so consistently, Jack had saved enough tyre life (As was the plan) to mount one final charge at the Yamaha, and with 5 laps to go, the gap was down to 4 tenths, and it honestly felt like the late 2000s again.

An Australian on a Ducati, duelling an Italian on a Yamaha for a race win…

It was Casey Stoner vs Valentino Rossi 2.0!

Miller cut the lead down to 2-tenths on the penultimate lap, finally getting close enough to have a crack at the Yamaha down the pit straight with tow and the Ducati’s straight line advantage!

With a victory in sight, JACK FIRED UP THE INSIDE AT TURN 1, but with the tail wind + tow he just couldn’t quite get the bike stopped, possibly exceeded track limits, and had to give the place back!

Miller charged back again at Turn 4, but Franco cut straight back at Turn 5 and reclaimed the lead with a ballsy move!

Jack tried to attack again at Turn 8, then at the Turn 11 hairpin, but Franco blocked the line and forced Miller to back off to avoid contact!

That astute piece of defensive riding probably decided the race, because Jack lost too much ground on the corner exit to get on Franco’s rear wheel at Turn 14 and launch the Duke out of the final turn for the slipstream…

So in a tense run to flag, it was Morbidelli who prevailed, after an epic last lap!

SO BLOODY CLOSE FOR JACK!

0.093s was the official margin, and it was a shame such a fantastic fight for the win had to happen on a day like Sunday and not get as much recognition as it deserved…

because across THE LINE in 7th came Joan Mir, to CEMENT THE MOTOGP TITLE!

Yes, just as we predicted pre-season.

The 20-year wait for a Suzuki rider to win the World Championship was over, and perhaps it was fitting that Suzuki would win the title in the year of the company’s 100th anniversary, and it was the culmination of a wild journey for the Hamamatsu team in the 4-stroke era, after they withdrew from MotoGP in 2011 during the economic downturn, returned full time in 2015, built themselves up under Davide Brivio’s leadership, and in this wild old year, it was the young Mallorcan Mir who returned them to glory through sheer consistency, in a season that was so consistently inconsistent.

Mir is the fourth Spaniard to win the premier class title, joining fellow Mallorcan Jorge Lorenzo, Alex Criville and Marc Marquez, and he’s the first ‘new’ MotoGP World Champion since Marquez won his first title in 2013.

It’s been a while.

The Suzuki legends – Barry Sheene, Marco Lucchinelli, Franco Uncini, Kevin Schwantz, Kenny Roberts Jnr, and Joan Mir.


Results

Another fine 3rd placing in 2020 for the younger Espargaro on the Red Bull KTM, with his 5 podiums in 2020 now the second-most for any rider behind the champion elect, Rins went from 14th to 4th, Binder made it both factory KTMs in the Top 5 and just about secured Rookie Of The Year, Oliveira backed up a 5th last week with 6th on Sunday, Dovi was an eyelash away from passing Mir for 7th on the line, Aleix Espargaro got Aprilia’s best result of the season with 9th, and Vinales was a lonely 10th.


Post Race


It was a fantastic last-lap battle with Franky, you really enjoy fights like that and even more on a tight track like Valencia is.

Battling with these big bikes when it’s that tight, just unreal. It was like a Moto3 race! Imagine how the crowd would have gone off if we’d had fans in the stands … it was about the one thing that was a shame today.

I gave it my all, fought as hard as I could, gave as good as I got and just missed out. No regrets because I gave it everything.

Full respect to Franky too because it was a clean and sporting fight, nothing dirty or unfair, and that’s how it should be when the stakes are as high as that. 

“Superb Second At Valencia” – Jack Miller

I feel comfortable declaring that was Jack’s best ride of the season, and by an absolute street, but that should give you an indication of how well Franco Morbidelli rode on Sunday.

‘Franky’ quite literally did not make one mistake all afternoon, even as Jack managed his tyres superbly, then furiously rattled down the 1.6 second lead the Italian had built, and after the Aussie briefly took the lead twice on the last lap, Franky just said relax, fought back and picked the perfect lines to defend, and the cornering speed of the Yamaha won the day.

It was clean, it was brave, both riders gave each other plenty of respect, and by gee by jingo by crikey, it was intense to watch – Just a shame Jack came up oh so short, but hey, it was good to see him back on the podium for the first time since that epic in Styria.

So that’s now an equal season-best 3 wins in 2020 for Morbidelli on the 2019 M1, which is proving to be superior (Ironically) to the 2020 evolution of Yamaha’s 4-stroke bike, and despite apparently being the 4th best Yamaha rider, Morbidelli is now 2nd in the World Championship behind Mir, and it’s pretty well earned, because he’s been just as consistent as the Suzuki rider in the 2nd half of the season.

It was also forgotten that Team Suzuki Ecstar have officially wrapped up the Teams Championship for the first time, but the Triple Crown is up in the air, with Ducati now level with Suzuki in the Constructors on 201 points, leaving it a simple case of whoever finishes higher in Portimao getting the prize, but despite the penalties, Yamaha can’t be counted out just 13 points behind.

It’s worth noting Red Bull KTM are ahead of Ducati… who’d have thought that.



Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster


A quick report this week as I’m very pressed for time.

Unfortunately a stomach bug pretty much ensured Remy Gardner wouldn’t be able to make it 5 consecutive Top 10 finishes in Moto2, especially after the ailing Aussie was knocked out late in Q1 to start 19th, but summing up why the son of Captain Chaos earned a spot with KTM Ajo for 2021, Gardner fought his way up to finish in 7th place, just about securing 6th overall in the Championship, with Jorge Martin winning on Sunday for the Finnish team, and locking up a Top 5 finish overall before he moves up to Pramac Ducati in 2021.

In a major story for the Moto2 title fight, in FP3, 2nd placed Sam Lowes suffered a horrible crash through Turns 8 & 9 after the rear snapped, sending the Kalex into a violent series of somersaults into the gravel, smacking the Brit hard on his helmet, while he also had a suspected right wrist injury.

You can see on the reverse angle Lowes also cops a serious hit to the helmet from the bike.

Yikes.

Lowes somehow rode in Qualifying, but he had massive swelling and a bandaged right hand, and it showed in Q2 when he couldn’t even get within 3 seconds of the fastest time to start 18th, but during the race, the Brit fought on through adversity and finished 14th, scrounging 2 vital points in the Championship.

It is possible it wasn’t Sam riding that Marc VDS Kalex, but his identical twin brother (World Superbike race winner) Alex Lowes.

As for the 25 lap race, Fabio Di Giannantonio passed Marco Bezzecchi for the lead on the penultimate lap and looked set to grab a rare win for Speed Up, but the Italian lost it all when he fell at Turn 6 on the final lap, handing the lead back to Bezzecchi, but even the Sky VR46 rider couldn’t hold on, because Martin completely blindsided him with a superb move at Turn 12, which also allowed Hector Garzo on the Pons Kalex to pinch 2nd place at Turn 13, as Martin held on to claim his first win since Styria, after finishing 2nd last weekend.

Luca Marini finished 5th and Championship Leader Enea Bastianini finished 6th, giving ‘The Beast’ Bastianini a 14 point lead over Lowes (194 points vs 180) as the series heads to Portimao, with Marini only 18 points behind, and Bezzecchi 23 points down in what will be the first time the Moto2 title fight to be decided in the final race of the year.

I can only think it would’ve been a 5-way fight were it not for Martin testing positive for COVID-19 before Misano, which pretty much derailed any title chance he had.

On another note, Stefano Manzi made history on the MV Agusta, taking his maiden Moto2 pole position, and becoming the 9th different rider to start from Pole Position in Moto2 in 2020.

It was the first time on record that MV Agusta had started on Pole in the intermediate class (250cc/Moto2), and their first in Grand Prix racing since the legend Giacomo ‘Ago’ Agostini claimed pole in the 350cc class in France 1976, which was the same year MV Agusta retired from Grand Prix racing after 25 years of utter domination, not to return until 2018.

Sadly though, Manzi didn’t even make it to half-race distance, after falling out from podium contention on Lap 10.


Next Up: Portugal to end the season this weekend.

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