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Motorcycle Grand Prix of Catalunya
If you didn’t watch the Formula 1 race in Spain last month, Turn 10 (La Caixa) at Montmelo has been re-profiled from the hard left hander back to the original gentle left hander that it was when the circuit opened, and the same profile that MotoGP used for many years after the tighter profile of the corner was built in 2004.
Still, it didn’t stop every man and his dog falling at the corner.
Journey of the Jackass 2021, Chapter 7: Stung by the Portuguese Man O’War
On the quick backup from Mugello, the grid returned to Catalunya on the first weekend of the European Summer with the death of Jason Dupasquier fresh in their minds, and there was a proper tribute for the late Swiss rider this, on what was also the 5th anniversary of Luis Salom’s death at Catalunya.
In more positive news, especially involving Australian riders….
He’ll move up to the Premier Class exactly 30 years after Wayne Gardner retired, and it’ll reunite Remy with Herve Poncharal’s Tech3 setup, after he had two forgettable Moto2 seasons with them back in 2017-18, and seeing Remy and his big frame on the 1000cc four-strokes gives me genuine optimism, and not just for the fact that we’ll finally have someone other than Jack Miller to cheer on in the premier class.
It’ll be the first time we’ve had two Australians riding full time in MotoGP since 2009, when Casey Stoner was still at Ducati, and Chris Vermuelen was in his last year at Suzuki.
The other major 2022 news involving riders, especially at KTM, was that Brad Binder bucked the trend of 1-year rider contracts and signed with Red Bull KTM for another 3 years, and off the heels of the factory Ducati team retaining Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia for 2022, Pramac Racing will retain Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin (Back from injury this round) for another season, a good show of faith after their best ever start to a MotoGP season.
The other positive news was that fans were allowed back at 20% capacity per day, but unfortunately, the Catalonian fans didn’t get to see Alex Rins crash out of his fifth consecutive race for Suzuki….
As far as freak injuries at Catalunya go, that’s just below Cal Crutchlow rupturing his ankle ligaments after he fell walking out of a COVID testing facility at the circuit last year.
A late lap by Valentino Rossi in FP3 consigned Jack Miller to Q1, but the Queenslander escaped by the skin of his teeth from the two Repsol Hondas of Pol Espargaro and Marc Marquez, who repeated his Mugello tactics by getting a tow behind the fastest rider, in this case Jack and his Ducati, but Marc missed the Top 12 by a mere 0.011s behind Pol, who himself was only 0.017s slower than Jack.
Unlike Maverick Vinales in Mugello, Jack was aware Marc was going to use him for a tow, so he jokingly gestured to the Spaniard how much cash was he willing to pay to get a tow.
“The funny thing was he (Marc) and I actually joked about it the day before, he knew he was struggling for a pace a bit and probably needed a tow, so I told him he had to pay for one from me! And then it actually happened. We had a good laugh about it. Anyway, the first tow is free but I might send him the bill if it happens again, him or the Honda boys anyway.”
Despite the disadvantage of coming through Q1, Miller did a fantastic job to qualify 2nd (Only 0.037s off pole) with one genuine flying lap, even as he high-sided at Turn 3 late in Q2, with the Aussie being joined on the front row by fellow title contender Johann Zarco, but it was a familiar Saturday story.
Fabio Quartararo took pole position on the factory Yamaha, matching Christian Sarron’s 1988 record for consecutive poles by a French rider!
I had to look that stat up after Matt Birt mentioned it on the broadcast, and as it turned out, Sarron, who was also on a Yamaha, didn’t win any of those 5 races, the reason being two riders with the surnames Lawson and Gardner.
Completing Q2, Miguel Oliveira continued the KTM improvement with 4th on the grid, Franco Morbidelli started 5th, Maverick Vinales 6th, Aleix Espargaro 7th for Aprilia, the re-signed Binder 8th, Pecco Bagnaia conceded early ground in 9th, the sole surviving Suzuki of Joan Mir started 10th, and Rossi and Pol Espargaro both fell during Q2.
It seemed like the Ducati holeshot doing the job off the start line would probably be the only thing stopping Quartararo from his fourth win of the season, because the Yamaha was looking by far the stronger bike at Montmelo, but predictions like that are why they race on Sunday.
Race (24 Laps)
Starting an hour earlier to avoid a clash with F1 in Azerbaijan, the MotoGP race hadn’t even begun when Jorge Martin suffered a cold tyre highside at Turn 5 on the sighting lap, forcing him to start on the second Pramac Ducati at the back of the grid.
The Top 4 riders all started on the Michelin Hard rear tyre, with Oliveira the only rider not using the Medium front and going for KTM’s beloved Hard front tyre, and as the lights went out, Miller was able to out-break Quartararo into Turn 1 after bogging down with the holeshot, which allowed Oliveira to go around Fabio into an early 2nd place, Mir played a blinder and got up to 4th, Marc Marquez was into the Top 10, while Morbidelli fell to 10th, Bagnaia dropped to 13th, and Rossi to 15th.
After leading the opening lap, Miller went wide at Turn 5 after missing a gear, allowing Oliveira into the lead, Quartararo lined up a pass for 2nd at Turn 7, but went way too deep and lost 2 spots to Mir and Aleix Espargaro:
The leading Aprilia was running as high as 3rd at the end of Lap 4, as a few seconds back, Brad Binder’s KTM clipped the back of Vinales trying to pull up at Turn 10, but they both got away with it.
Oliveira was flying in clear air out front, Mir moved into 3rd place with a move on Aleix, Quartararo joined in, and the Espargaro family had another blow when Pol Espargaro was the first retirement on Lap 5, falling at Turn 5, which continued to be a problem spot, as Miller went wide again at Turn 5 on Lap 6 (Possibly caused by an overheating front tyre), dropping 2 places behind Quartararo and Mir, and the Tech3 of Petrucci fell at Turn 9
Further behind, Marc Marquez was on the charge through the field, going from 13th to contest 6th place with Zarco, but Marc’s brief flashes of life in the last few races continue to be brief, because he went down at Turn 10 on Lap 8!
It’s the first time in Marc’s MotoGP career that he’s failed to finish in three consecutive races, and it seems to reflect where Honda are at right now.
Back up the front, Quartararo passed Mir for 2nd on Lap 7 and now had a clean run at Oliveira 1.2 seconds up the road, as Taka Nakagami was given a long lap penalty for shortcutting Turns 1-2, and it turns out he wasn’t the only rider in this paragraph who would be penalised for such an action.
Just behind them, Zarco had passed Aleix Espargaro for 5th place and was closing up to Miller, who just wasn’t firing on the Hard rear tyre at this stage of the race, which was still better than the Spaniard on the Aprilia, who fell from 6th on Lap 11, at the familiar burial ground of Turn 10!
Unsurprisingly, Quartararo took chunks out of Oliveira’s lead, and passed the Portuguese rider for the lead at Turn 6 on Lap 12:
But, Miguel wasn’t done yet, and he used the KTM’s speed + the slipstream to reclaim the lead to start Lap 14!
At the same time, Zarco passed Miller for 4th place, and the Frenchman mercilessly closed up to Mir and used his Bologna Bullet blow a hole through the Suzuki down the pit straight to start Lap 16, moving into the podium places:
That invited Miller to have a crack at Mir, and Jack successfully made a pass for 4th at Turn 6, while Vinales was slowly creeping back onto the lead group, setting lap times that were 1.1 seconds faster than Mir, but it proved to be a case of being good enough to close up, but not good enough to pass.
The next retirement of the race was Valentino Rossi, who crashed at Turn 10 on Lap 16, thanks to vibrations in his rear tyre that left him with a lack of grip, and Iker Lecuona’s good Top 10 run ended when he fell at Turn 13 on Lap 17, a major shame for a rider whose future is in serious doubt with Remy Gardner inbound for Tech3.
As they entered the final 5 laps, Oliveira still led from Quartararo thanks to the top speed advantage, with Zarco now only 1 second behind as Fabio’s Medium front started to pay the price for his failure to clear the KTM, Miller was starting to make good use of the rear tyre and had defeated Mir and Vinales to move into a clear 4th, while Bagnaia and Binder continued their duel further behind, which didn’t get much coverage because of the fight for the lead, but I imagine being a Ducati vs a KTM, it resembled the usual Moto3 slipstreaming.
Despite the constant pressure, Oliveira didn’t bend an inch, thanks to some remarkable consistency that popped up on the screen – Miguel didn’t drop into the 1m41s laps until LAP 21, and on Lap 22, he started to genuinely put a gap on Quartararo, who now had the charging Zarco to contend with, and just as he did to Mir, the Ducati rider exploded past his compatriot down the straight to take 2nd place, and Quartararo tried braking back into Turn 1, but had a moment on the front end and went straight through the long lap loop at Turn 2, and that was the polesitter’s hopes of winning gone, and now Miller was going to try and bump him off the podium!
As it turned out, Fabio had taken himself off the podium with his high speed re-entry, and the next strike came when his leathers came undone, he pulled out his chest protector and rode the remainder of the race bare chested, an act that many assumed (Including me) would lead to a black flag for a breach of FIM World Championship Grand Prix Regulations Article 126.96.36.199, but for some reason it never came.
Yeah sure Jason Dupasquier died last week and Ayumu Sasaki ended up in hospital after the Moto3 race on Sunday, but Freddie Spencer obviously saw Fabio’s bare chest and got a flashback to the good old days when rider safety was a suggestion instead of a shared belief.
So in the teamtime, Miller first tried a move at Turn 10 that failed, and a move into Turn 1 on the penultimate lap didn’t work as Fabio cut back, and after that, Jack just couldn’t close enough to Fabio, while Zarco had cut the gap to Oliveira down to 3 tenths to start the last lap, but the Portuguese ace was never truly threatened, and after finishing 2nd at Mugello, Miguel Oliveira took KTM’s first win of the season!
I have to say Miguel, who does love a Cristiano Ronaldo celebration, deserves an award for real life shitposting, when he celebrated by performing Ronaldo’s Calma Calma celebration… IN BARCELONA.
Thankfully the locals didn’t throw bricks at him.
Johann Zarco finished 2nd for the eighth time in his MotoGP career, continuing his cruel hunt for his maiden win, a sentence that could also be applied to Pramac Ducati, and in the final sector of the race, QUARTARARO WAS HANDED A 3-SECOND PENALTY for shortcutting Turns 1-2 during the Zarco pass, promoting Jack Miller onto the podium, and post-race, the Championship leader was docked another 3 seconds for unzipping his leathers, dropping him to 6th and promoting Mir and Vinales to complete the Top 5!
Bagnaia did ultimately get the upper hand over Binder, Morbidelli was always on the back foot after a bad start, but he did finish 9th, Enea Bastianini returned to the Top 10 for the first time since Portugal, and with all those falls, every rider that stayed upright finished in the points, so well done Lorenzo Savadori on back to back points finishes!
At the end of the day, a fantastic ride by Oliveira, his third win in the last 12 months for KTM, and I still remember talking to my good friend Merv Roberts about Miguel after the 2019 season, in which Miguel had a horror season-ending crash at Phillip Island, and he had five simple words for me:
“I LIKE HIM A LOT.”
He wasn’t wrong.
A Grand Prix sponsored by Monster Energy, and Red Bull-sponsored riders finish 1-2-3.
What an almighty kicking that is.
Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster
Fresh off his thrilling win at Mugello and a confirmed promotion to MotoGP, Remy Gardner stormed to a second pole position of 2021 ahead of teammate and title rival Raul Fernandez, as the Red Bull KTM Ajo riders looked mightily intimidating once again in the Intermediate class, Dutchman Bo Bendsnyder bounced back from a quiet Mugello to start on the front row from Augusto Fernandez, who out-qualified teammate Sam Lowes for the first time this season, while Marco Bezzecchi had a heap of work to do starting from 10th, and the rest of the Top 10 comprised of Fabio Di Giannantonio, Xavi Vierge, rookie Ai Ogura, and Somikat Chantra, which put Honda Team Asia bikes starting in the Top 10 for the first time this season.
Race (22 Laps)
At the start, Gardner took the lead and controlled the race through the early laps, and the only change for position among the Top 5 on the grid was Vierge and Augusto Fernandez swapping 4th and 5th place, while Bezzecchi made up 4 places in the opening 2 laps, and was up into 5th after slipstreaming Fernandez down the pit straight to start Lap 3.
The opening 10 laps were fairly mild to say the least – Aron Canet fell from 7th on Lap 7, and Marcos Ramirez fell into Turn 1 on the next lap, and most of the coverage seemed to be focused around Lowes trying to come through the field, Raul Fernandez putting the pressure on Gardner, and Bo Bendsnyder losing part of his helmet cover:
Raul appeared to be the faster of the KTM Ajo bikes in the first half of the race, and he took the lead into Turn 1 on Lap 12, although it seemed like Gardner was content to let him through and keep saving his tyres for the end of the race, so he spent the next
So for the next 10 minutes, Gardner happily latched on to Fernandez’ rear wheel, with the two 8 tenths clear of the fight for 3rd between Bendsnyder, Vierge and Bezzecchi, with the decisive podium move coming from the Barcelona native Vierge into Turn 1 on Lap 16:
And the next lap Bezzecchi passed the Dutchman for 4th.
Out in front, the two Red Bull bikes began pulling away from the field, and Fernandez just couldn’t shake Gardner, a task made even harder when he got a track limits warning 5 laps from the end, and it just seemed like a matter of when Gardner would make his move, and it turned out it was into Turn 1 with 3 laps to go, and Remy was somewhat forced to make a divebomb, or else he would’ve slammed into the back of the Spaniard, but the Aussie had more than enough grip left to pull it up and rocket away:
Despite attacking much earlier than he did at Mugello, Remy promptly shot clear and had the race well and truly done to a dinner, while in the final laps, two unfortunate incidents occurred, the first being that Ai Ogura lost a certain 7th place after falling at Turn 4 on the same lap:
Followed by Fabio Di Giannantonio and Hector Garzo having a dangerous accident at Turn 1, when DiGi actually took 9th from Garzo, but drifted back to the racing line to defend his position and ended up making rear wheel to front wheel contact with Garzo’s Kalex, sending them both into the dirt, but thankfully both alive and kicking:
So at the end of another chaotic day of Grand Prix racing, our Remy Gardner made it BACK TO BACK GRAND PRIX WINS IN THE SPACE OF A WEEK, extending his championship lead in the process!
The first Australian to win consecutive Intermediate class races since Casey Stoner in 2005 during the old 250cc days, and that’s a stat that makes sense to me, considering Remy is the best Australian Intermediate rider since Casey moved up, even though Ant West did win a race at the Dutch TT in 2014.
After another fantastic ride, considering he is a rookie after all, Raul Fernandez had to be content with 2nd in another Red Bull KTM Ajo 1-2, and completing the Top 3, Barcelona native Vierge claimed his first Moto2 podium since Australia 2018, a podium that featured future MotoGP race winners Brad Binder and Joan Mir.
Yep, it’s been a while for Xavi.
Fair to say the Thai fans would absolutely love seeing Somkiat Chantra in the Top 10 once again!
So as we head to Germany, Gardner and Fernandez have put a race win’s worth of points back to Marco Bezzecchi, who consistently finishes in the Top 5 but just doesn’t seem to have the pace of the Top 2, while Sam Lowes recovered what points he could in 7th to move into a clear 4th in the standings, but at this stage you’d be very game to suggest anyone other than the Top 3 will be contending for the Moto2 title.
Up next in a fortnight: The King of the Ring – The German Grand Prix at THE SACHSENRING