Motorsport

Motorsport Monday: Italian MotoGP

“I wish this sport didn’t have to be so cruel” – Miguel Oliveira to Simon Crafar, on the loss of Jason Dupasquier

Images/GIFs belong to Dorna Sports


Circuit: Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello

Always a popular Grand Prix track for fans, undoubtedly the highlight of the Ferrari-owned Mugello circuit is the 1.141km pit straight, in which riders can crack 360km/h WITHOUT a slipstream on the downhill run to San Donato/Turn 1, which makes for an awesome onboard shot, as shown here with Andrea Dovizioso in 2015:


Journey of the Jackass, 2021, Chapter 6: The Tuscan Hills are alive with the sound of four-strokes

On the last week of the European Spring, the Grand Prix paddock was off to the rolling green hills of Mugello for the first running of the Italian Grand Prix since 2019, and unfortunately due to circumstances, the Tuscan hills won’t be rollicking with seas of yellow in support of Valentino Rossi, in what may very well be The Doctor’s final Italian Grand Prix appearance after 25 years and 9 wins at Mugello, while he also has to make a decision on the future manufacturer of his VR46 team when they step up to the Premier Class in 2022 in place of Esponsorama Racing, with Ducati the likely choice.

In an ideal world for Dorna as the rights holder, VR46 would switch to Suzuki to give every manufacturer except Aprilia at least 4 bikes, although Gresini are splitting with Aprilia for 2022, and history shows the Hamamatsu head office have always been hesitant to run any more than 2 factory bikes for financial and logistical reasons, which probably means we’ll be back to 8 Ducatis on the grid in 2022.

In more recent major news, KTM debuted a new frame and new race fuels from ETS in an effort to reverse their poor start to 2021, Michele Pirro, who usually makes a wildcard appearance for Ducati at Mugello, stood in for Jorge Martin, whose recovery was pushed back another race, while Pramac Racing re-signed with Ducati for another 3 years, which will push their partnership to the 20-year mark when the new deal ends in 2024, while Jack Miller was rewarded for his back-to-back wins in Spain and France by having his 2022 option taken up with the Bologna Bullets, meaning they’ll retain the line-up of Miller and Francesco Bagnaia for another year, which means Jack can race without that lingering doubt in his mind for the rest of the year.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, we’ll find out.


Jason Dupasquier’s fatal accident

While crashes resulting in broken bones have long been part of the furniture when it comes to Grand Prix racing, you just can’t prepare yourself for the event of a fatal crash, which have become increasingly rare thanks to improvements in safety, but unfortunately, in a freak situation where a rider falls onto the racing line into the path of other riders, there’s only so much modern safety can do.

During Q1 of Moto3, the 19-year-old Swiss rider Jason Dupasquier, who was 10th in the Moto3 Championship after Le Mans, fell on the kerbs between Turn 9 and 10 while he tried to avoid the slower Sergio Garcia, being hit by his KTM as he hit the deck, which left Ayumu Sasaki on the Tech 3 KTM directly behind him no chance to change his line, hitting both Dupasquier and his bike at high speed, which sent Sasaki airborne into the infield, with the unsighted Jeremy Alcoba on the Gresini Honda also being caught up in the incident (Alcoba stated he thought he’d hit the Swiss rider’s legs), which thankfully wasn’t shown on TV, with the blow to the head to Dupasquier bringing back some awful memories of Marco Simoncelli’s fatal crash at Sepang in 2011.

Both Sasaki and Alcoba avoided major injuries and raced on Sunday, although as we sadly know, Dupasquier was treated trackside and airlifted to hospital in Florence in a critical condition with serious head injuries, and underwent thoracic surgery for a vascular lesion, and after the Moto3 race on Sunday, and just before the Moto2 race, Dorna and the FIM had to deliver the news that we were all dreading:

It marks the first death in Grand Prix racing since Luis Salom died during Moto2 Practice at Catalunya in 2016, and who knows if the Moto3 race would’ve gone ahead if the news had arrived before the lightweight class went ahead, although both the Moto2 and MotoGP races went ahead in his memory, with the MotoGP field holding a minute’s silence before the feature race.


MotoGP


Qualifying

Maverick Vinales became a father since France, but he was forced into Q1 after falling at the end of FP3 to drop him out of the Top 10 on combined times, and the Top Gun didn’t even get out of the opening qualifying session after Marc Marquez (Who was struggling with a shoulder injury) followed the factory Yamaha on both his flying laps to pick up a tow, a move Repsol Honda made because Vinales was undoubtedly the faster rider, and it was the only way the slower Marc could make up time, and it proved a successful tactic, because Marquez improved into Q2 as the fastest rider, and the mind games screwed with Maverick’s head so badly it led to him missing Q2 by 0.021s behind the other Repsol Honda of Pol Espargaro.

You can’t blame Maverick, usually he only sees the exhaust of that #93 Honda

Marc did apologise to Maverick after the session for tactics he described as being “Not completely fair”, even though he didn’t need to, as intentionally following a rider to pick up a tow is still a legal tactic, albeit one that falls under unsportsmanlike.

Moving on, Pecco Bagnaia had lowered the all-time MotoGP lap record for Mugello in Practice 3 with a 1.45.456 (Marc Marquez set a 1.45.519 in 2019), but the current one lap lord Fabio Quartararo went even better in Qualifying, recording his fourth consecutive pole position with a monster 1.45.187, as fellow championship contenders Bagnaia and Johann Zarco completed the front row while they ate dust, despite setting times that would’ve also been lap records!

Aprilia equalled their best-ever qualifying result in the four-stroke era with 4th for Aleix Espargaro, despite Aleix being fresh off arm pump surgery, Jack Miller started 5th in pursuit of a winning hat-trick, Brad Binder set a new Mugello top speed record in FP3 (362.4km/h) and started 6th in his first Premier Class start at Mugello, Miguel Oliveira on the other factory Red Bull KTM headed the third row ahead of the Suzukis, Franco Morbidelli started 10th, and the factory Hondas of Marquez and Pol Espargaro didn’t improve on Q1 to start 11th and 12th.

As previously mentioned, Vinales could only start 13th, Takaaki Nakagami found himself buried in 15th, and the Italians featured prominently in the final 3 rows – Pirro in 16th, Marini 17th, 2019 race winner Danilo Petrucci 18th, Rossi 19th, Lorenzo Savadori 21st, and completing the grid was Alex Marquez on the LCR Honda, who did win in Moto2 in his last appearance at Mugello, but he’d do very well to score a point this time around.


Race (23 Laps)

As the riders raced with Jason Dupasquier fresh in their minds, the first rider to exit stage right was Enea Bastianini from 14th, who did a huge stoppie and flipped over his handlebars on the warm-up lap only metres from the grid, after being caught out by Zarco’s heavy braking while the Frenchman warmed up his tyres, with Zarco suffering only cosmetic damage to his Ducati, but nevertheless, the Italian didn’t even get to start his home race!

So when the lights went out as the marshals cleared the bike, Quartararo showcased Yamaha’s vastly improved holeshot device to hold the lead, but Bagnaia used the Ducati holeshot to lead into San Donato, Oliveira jumped from 7th into 3rd, Zarco was 4th and Miller 5th, although Johann did improve into 3rd by the end of Lap 1, as the next bit of drama occurred only a few corners into Lap 2.

First, Marc Marquez went down from 10th place after colliding with Binder at Turn 4 an incident that set off Binder’s airbag, and left poor Franco Morbidelli with nowhere to go except a surf through the gravel, dropping the Petronas Yamaha down to last place, but it got even crazier than that, because BAGNAIA CRASHED OUT OF THE LEAD AT TURN 9!

He put the wheels on the edge of the kerb and the front just didn’t like it – The first mistake for Pecco all season long, and just to rub salt into the festering wound, it was at home.

Now up to 2nd, Zarco used the slipstream to take the lead from his compatriot down the pit straight to end the lap with a new race lap record 1.46.810 (Which remained the fastest lap), but Fabio was back ahead at Turn 3 on Lap 4, and he would stamp his authority once again, break out of the slipstream of the Ducati, and lead every lap for the remainder of the afternoon.

So with Zarco and Oliveira left to fight for the podium places, Miller in 4th appeared to be holding up the Suzukis of Alex Rins and Joan Mir, who had the clear advantage through the corners, but the factory Ducati would use its monster top speed advantage to get back ahead into Turn 1 and force the Suzukis to work all over again, in a similar situation to Losail.

After squabbling with his World Champion teammate and eventually coming out on top, Rins finally got ahead of Miller on Lap 8, which also allowed Mir through into 5th, and Binder on the KTM slipped by at the same time, dropping Jack from 4th to 7th in the space of a lap.

Quartararo’s race lead was up to 2.8 seconds by Lap 10, and there were a few times where I forgot Fabio was even out there, so dominant was his performance on Sunday, while the revived Oliveira was starting to reel in Zarco, with the threat of two blue Suzukis closing up and eyeing a double podium finish for the Hamamatsu team, and it would be Mir who took 4th place from Rins on Lap 11 and began dragging the Spaniard with him.

After several laps of waiting, Oliveira passed Zarco through Turn 11 on Lap 16 as a pumped up Pit Beirer cheered his Portuguese rider on:

And Mir passed the French rider into Turn 11 on Lap 17 to assume the pursuit of 2nd, Rins moved up to 4th on Lap 18, and the Pramac Ducati just had nothing left to give.

Quartararo’s lead was an unbeatable 4 seconds with 5 laps to go, after which time he began performing the old Jorge Lorenzo tactics of managing the bike in the final laps, allowing the chasing pack to make inroads into the lead, which was a luxury that Alex Rins didn’t get, because HE LOST THE FRONT END AT THE FINAL CORNER ON LAP 19!

It’s now four consecutive races that Rins has fallen from a promising position…. He should change his name to Alex Bins with the amount of good points he’s thrown away.

The drama kept going when Nakagami crashed from 8th at Turn 14, leaving Honda without a bike in the Top 10, and Pirro, who was running pretty well in his cameo appearance, went through the gravel and lost 9th place.

So with not much else happening after that, Zarco caught a second wind and closed up to the Suzuki, but he never got close enough, a statement that applies to everyone versus Fabio Quartararo, who eased down in the closing laps and comfortably won his third race of the season, giving Yamaha their first win at Mugello since Jorge Lorenzo in 2016, and

Oliveira used the KTM’s straight line speed to keep Mir at bay in the closing laps, claiming his first Top 10 of the season in 2nd, but Mir briefly held 2nd after the Portuguese rider was demoted to 3rd by Freddie Spencer and the stewards after crossing into the green strip by millimetres at Turn 5 on the final lap, not even gaining an advantage, only to be reinstated because Mir did the same thing AT THE EXACT SAME CORNER.

Apparently two wrongs do indeed, make a right.

Zarco finished in 4th and moved back into 2nd in the standings, Binder matched his 5th placing from Portugal, Miller was 6th at a track where he’d only scored 1 point from his last 6 visits, Aleix Espargaro returned to the points in 7th, Vinales was a lonely 8th, Petrucci made it consecutive Top 10 finishes on the KTM after starting 18th, and the fast-charging Rossi and Lecuona hit the line together, with Vale completing the Top 10, his first Top 10 appearance since the first Misano race last year!

Funnily enough, the Top 3 were all teammates at Leopold Racing in Moto3 in 2016

Of course, there was always going to be a tribute to Jason on the podium, and Fabio Quartararo did all that needed to be done, bringing a Swiss flag up to the podium, and Mir and Oliveira helped bring an end to a tough afternoon:

Post Race notes

While riders like Jack Miller, Valentino Rossi and Franco Morbidelli would state they were happy to keep racing, mainly out of respect for a fallen comrade, Danilo Petrucci stated he felt dirty riding on Sunday given the news, and Jack’s teammate Pecco Bagnaia stated that he felt they shouldn’t have raced, a decision that had nothing to do with the fact that he fell from the lead, given that he did state he felt the same way after Luis Salom’s death in 2016.

Still, they didn’t stop racing in Barcelona after Salom died, they kept racing at Misano in 2010 when Shoya Tomizawa died during the race, although the exception to the norm is that the MotoGP race was abandoned when Simoncelli died at Sepang in 2011.

At the end of the day, they wanted to pay their respects to a fellow racer by going out and racing, and they did.

Mir’s 3rd placing marked the first time Suzuki have been on the podium at Mugello since Darryl Beattie finished 2nd to Mick Doohan in 1995 – Funnily enough, Mighty Mick was in the Pramac garage on Sunday watching the race.

Mugello marks first time this season that Ducati haven’t had a bike on the podium, which has promoted Yamaha back into the Constructors’ Championship lead, and Monster Energy Yamaha are back in the lead of the Teams’ Championship over the Bologna Bullets, but most importantly of all, Quartararo now effectively has a race win over the field in the Riders’ Championship.

The other story from the race is that thanks to the upgraded bike, KTM returned to the sort of form they showed last season with a double Top 5 finish for the factory Red Bull KTM team, with the other main factor for the turnaround being that the warm conditions in Northern Italy allowed them to make good use of Michelin Hard front tyre compound, a tyre that Oliveira and Binder both achieved wins with last season.

If they get another warm weekend at Barcelona in a few days, then don’t be shocked if the Austrian make is up in the Top 5 again.


Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster

Having retained his Moto2 title lead by a point at Le Mans, thanks to a 2nd placing to his Red Bull KTM Ajo teammate Raul Fernandez, Remy Gardner arrived at Mugello having never previously finished in the Top 10 at the track in any category, but then again, he’d never ridden a bike as good as this 2021 Kalex.

Still, Raul is the hot hand in Moto2 right now, and he continued his superb run by breaking the Moto2 Mugello lap record in FP3 to top the combined practice times from the Australian and Sam Lowes, and in a Qualifying session that featured drizzle in both Q1 and Q2, the rookie Spaniard made it consecutive pole positions by 0.267s from Sam Lowes, who had to be content with 2nd on the grid, while Jorge Navarro on the Boscoscuro made a late jump to complete the front row, bumping Gardner down to start from 4th alongside Fabio Di Giannantonio and ‘Tiger’ Tony Arbolino on the second row.

Marco Bezzecchi conceded early ground from 7th on his il Tricolore pained VR46 Kalex, Xavi Vierge, Marcel Schrotter and Joe Roberts completed the Top 10 and a special mention should go to Fermín Aldeguer, a rookie in the MotoE Championship who stood in for the injured Yari Montella on a Boscoscuro, and despite having no experience in Moto2, reached Q2 and started 15th!

Race (21 Laps)

As the news was delivered about Jason Dupasquier barely 15 minutes before the Moto2 race began, the Swiss veteran Tom Luthi had already announced he had withdrawn from the race to go to Florence to be alongside his compatriot’s family in hospital, having been due to start from 28th position, but alas, the racing would go on.

At the start, Fernandez led into the first corner as Gardner snuck his way past Navarro to make it a Red Bull KTM 1-2 early on, Lowes did drop to 5th on Lap 1 before he crept back up to 3rd, while Lorenzo Dalla Porta didn’t even make it past San Donato in his home race, continuing the barren run for the 2019 Moto3 champion, and Lowes’ teammate Augusto Fernandez was another to depart on Lap 1, falling at Turn 10 to make it a hat-trick of DNF finishes.

Eventually Lowes started to catch Gardner, beginning on Lap 3 when he smashed the Moto2 race lap record of 1.51.881 that Alex Marquez had set in 2019…. Lowes posted a 1.51.208!

In fact, it probably shows the evolution of current-spec Moto2 bikes that no fewer than 9 riders set a time that was better than the old race lap record.

Back to the race, and behind the Top 3, Bezzecchi had made a good start from 7th, rising into the Top 5 with a pass on Arbolino into Turn 1 on Lap 5, as Raul Fernandez began stretching his gap to Gardner to out over a second, and Jorge Navarro threw away another good Saturday performance, falling from 8th on Lap 5.

Eventually, Lowes caught up to the Aussie and gained the slipstream down the pit straight to begin Lap 10, but Remy didn’t immediately give up 2nd place, beginning a fantastic two-wheeled Ashes battle between the riders, as Gardner cut back up the inside out of San Donato, Lowes got back ahead into Turn 2, Gardner set himself up to slingshot back ahead out of Turn 3, but Lowes held the inside line on the run down to Turn 4 and finally got ahead.

The downside to that quality piece of racing was that Fernandez was able to build his lead out to an imposing 1.841 seconds, but Lowes began to mow into the Spaniard’s lead, with Gardner just happy to use the Elf Marc VDS Kalex to catch up to his teammate doing the donkey work, which helped Remy save some much needed edge grip for the end of the race.

Di Giannantonio’s promising afternoon came to a shuddering end from 4th place on Lap 12, when he lost the front of the Gresini bike at the final corner Bucine, promoting Bezzecchi up the order.

By Lap 15, Lowes had dropped the gap down to 0.744s, but continuing the feast or famine run that’s marked his career in Grand Prix racing, THE BRIT WENT DOWN AT Arrabbiatta 1 ON LAP 16!

That was Sam’s third DNF in the last four races, a brutal blow for his title chances, it gifted Red Bull KTM Ajo a near-certain 1-2 finish if Fernandez and Gardner stayed upright, and it gave 3rd place to Joe Roberts, as the American charged through the field and passed Bezzecchi the lap before Lowes went down.

So Gardner was into 2nd, needing to reel in 1.37 seconds to his teammate in the final 5 laps, and the son of Wayne responded with a blistering run – He carved back 4 tenths on Lap 17 to immediately get within a second, then ripped out half a second on Lap 18 to bring it to under half a second, and just like that the fight for the lead was on, as Fernandez began to struggle with his tyres, and Aki Ajo probably struggled with his ticker!

The fight for the race lead also distracted us from the thrilling duel for 3rd between Roberts and Bezzecchi, which changed hands more than a hot potato – Bezzecchi got back ahead on Lap 19, but Roberts braked deep into Turn 1 and was back into 3rd to start the penultimate lap….

With a massive advantage in edge grip, Gardner was all over Fernandez through the corners, but he waited until the final lap to make his move, and after getting a great run out of Arrabbiata 2, Gardner was alongside on the downhill run into Turn 10, the teammates nearly touched, BUT GARDNER TOOK THE LEAD FOR THE FIRST TIME!

Fernandez wasn’t done yet, and followed Gardner all the way through the final sector, and he set up a thrilling drag to the finish after getting the slipstream out of the final corner….

But thanks to a well-timed pass, Gardner took his first win of 2021, by a mere 0.014 seconds!

Missed it by that much

It was the second-closest Moto2 finish in the class’ 11-year history, bettered only by Tom Luthi and Franco Morbidelli being split by 0.010s at Australia in 2016, and as far as last lap contests for the lead between Australians and Spaniards go, it was the best since Mick Doohan and Alex Criville at Brno in 1996, when Criville won by a mere 0.002s in the closest finish in Grand Prix history.

In a similar finish for 3rd place 8 seconds back, Roberts held on ahead of Bezzecchi by 0.017s, but the American was left devastated after he was demoted to 4th for exceeding track limits by a bee’s diaphragm at Turn 5 on the final lap!

Thus, Bezz took his third consecutive podium, giving him a clear hold on 3rd in the Moto2 standings, with Gardner increasing his lead from 1 point to 6 points – 114 plays 108, with Bezzecchi back in 3rd on 88 points, and Lowes on 66.

Completing the rest of the Top 10, Marcel Schrotter finished 5th, Ai Ogura went from 12th to 6th in another good performance from the rookie, fellow rookie Tony Arbolino finished right behind in 7th, Cameron Beaubier made a stellar comeback from 26th to 8th, finally putting together a race after late falls in his last two rides, and a few more great recoveries were Malaysian Hafizh Syahrin from 20th to 9th, Stefano Manzi went from 23rd to 10th, and after impressing with 15th in Qualifying, Aldeguer did MotoE proud by finishing 12th… For a guy who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, he rode pretty well!

Another 1-2 for the Red Bull KTM Ajo team, and they’ll go in with a head full of momentum into Catalunya this coming weekend!

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