The VROOM Blog: #EmiliaRomagnaGP – Maverick is Top Gun in Misano

 In MotoGP, News

This really is the season to expect the unexpected, isn’t it? Who would have expected four first time winners in the opening 6 races? Who would have expected Dovi to walk away from Ducati? And who would have expected to see Honda absent from the podium for the first 6 races? Not me anyway.

Would this weekend see a Honda rider finally stand on the podium in 2020? Would The Doctor finally get that 200th premier class podium in what would be his 250th premier class start with Yamaha? Would we see another brand new race winner? The short answer is ‘no’, but it would still be an entertaining weekend as the MotoGP paddock remained in Misano for the second race in a row.

It was announced in the run up to this weekend that there will be a two day test for MotoGP test riders at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimão. The test will take place on Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th of October and will allow the teams to gather data that will no doubt be valuable come the season finale in November. Test riders expected to participate include Dani Pedrosa for KTM, Jorge Lorenzo for Yamaha, Michele Pirro for Ducati and Stefan Bradl for Honda.

While the test is primarily for MotoGP manufacturer test teams, some MotoGP riders will be allowed to attend on the Wednesday. They will however be restricted to riding ‘street machinery’ which will allow them to spend time becoming familiar with the newest addition to the MotoGP calendar. Currently there are 14 riders on the provisional list of those expected to attend, and during the press conference on Thursday Dovi explained that “to be there and fight for the championship you have to do everything” and that although the street bike will not help with set up or strategy for the race weekend, the opportunity to learn the track is one that they must take advantage of.

Also in the press conference, Aleix Espargaro was asked about his teammate for next season. Currently test rider Bradley Smith is filling the seat vacated by Andrea Iannone’s drugs ban, and speculation links both Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso with the ride for 2021. Aleix said that he would love to have Dovi as a teammate because he could learn a lot from him, but that Aprilia are still waiting to see what happens with Iannone – his appeal against the ban is still pending a result, which is now expected to come in October.

With the news last weekend that Enea Bastianini will step up to MotoGP with Ducati for 2021, one could be forgiven for thinking that all of the seats at Ducati were now taken. Not according to Valentino Rossi who announced that VR46 Academy rider (and Vale’s half-brother) Luca Marini has “the chance to arrive in MotoGP next year with Avintia Ducati…” By my count that makes 7 riders for 6 available seats (Miller, Pecco, Zarco, Martin, Rabat, Bastianini and Marini), so what happens next? Martin and Marini have yet to be confirmed by Ducati, although it seems that the announcement of Jorge Martin to Pramac has been delayed by his positive COVID-19 tests, but I wouldn’t expect Vale to be making such statements about Marini without having grounds to do so. Tito Rabat is on a two year contract with Avintia Ducati and brings money to the team, but the same could have been said of Karel Abraham earlier this year, will Tito suffer the same fate in order for the team to snap up Moto2 championship leader Marini? Whatever does happen, Vale says that Marini’s key focus this season is the Moto2 championship – he must concentrate on winning the Moto2 championship because “this is the most important thing before next year.”

Franky Morbidelli revealed this weekend that following his “Do the right thing” inspired helmet last weekend, he received a phone call from Spike Lee. Franky explained “when I answered the phone it was Spike Lee… he was very passionate about my helmet, and he was very passionate about the fact that I brought it to the win.” That’s pretty cool!

My favourite thing this weekend though was Andrea Dovizioso’s new butt-patch on his leathers. In recent times he has carried the word “Undaunted” – where the “U” is a horseshoe – as a nod to the Red Bull documentary of the same name. As a side note, if you haven’t watched Undaunted yet you absolutely should. Anyway, Dovi strolled out of his garage to his bike on Friday with the familiar horseshoe on the back of his leathers, only it no longer says undaunted. Now it reads “Unemployed” – take a bow Dovi. While many read this as a dig at Ducati or a joke regarding him leaving at the end of the season, Dovi did explain that he simply lost a bet with his friends. His friends had joked with him before the first weekend in Misano that he should put unemployed on his leathers if he was leading the championship by the end of the weekend – Dovi says he didn’t expect to be leading so he agreed, saying that the statement was done ‘in a relaxed way, a funny way’. I’m still reading it as a dig a Ducati, and I thought it was brilliant!
Q1 this week was once again packed with riders that any other season we would expect to see having gone straight through to Q2, but this is 2020 so we saw Championship leader Dovi, race winner Miguel Oliveira and front runners Miller and Rins having to face the prospect of Q1. It was an interesting session, which was lead for a chunk of time by rookie Iker Lecuona, but in the end it was the Ducati duo of Dovi and Miller who progressed to Q2 with Lecuona having to settle for 13th on the grid.

Once again Nakagami was the sole Honda rider through in Q2 – although with both Crutchlow and Bradl out with injury this weekend, there were actually only 2 Hondas on the grid – and he qualified in 12th. While it looked as though Bagnaia might claim pole, his final fast lap was cancelled as he exceeded track limits meaning that it was Maverick Viñales who once again took pole position in Misano, and this week he was joined on the front row by Jack Miller and Fabio Quartararo, with Pol Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia and Brad Binder lining up on row 2.

Sunday morning saw Alex Marquez top the morning warm up session, Romano Fenati scoring his first Moto3 win of the season and a rain interrupted Moto2 race that saw great results for Sam Lowes and Jake Dixon.

By the time the MotoGP riders lined up on the grid on Sunday afternoon, the track was dry and anticipation was high. It was Miller who grabbed the holeshot ahead of Viñales, Fabio and Pecco, but Maverick wasted no time in passing Miller and taking the lead. Further down the field, Aleix Espargaro crashed and hit Franky Morbidelli who was able to stay upright but found himself at the back of the pack having been leading the race at this point last week. That along with the stomach bug that has plagued him all week would surely not make an enjoyable race for poor Franky.

Lap 2 was possibly the most action packed of the race, with Maverick pulling a bit of a lead his teammate Rossi crashed but was able to remount. Brad Binder passed Jack Miller for 3rd, a few corners later Jack ran wide and Pol Espargaro and Fabio took advantage, passing the Australian and demoting him back to 5th. Binder also crashed and remounted on this lap!

As Maverick continued to pull a gap on Pecco, Pecco did the same to Pol. By lap 4, Alex Marquez was up to 9th while fellow rookie Binder crashed for a second time, ending his race in the gravel.

Pecco didn’t waste much time in closing down Maverick, and he struck on lap 6 taking the lead from the Yamaha rider. It was good to see Maverick try to fight back, although eventually Pecco made the move stick and immediately began to gap him.

Jack Miller pulled into the pits on lap 9, gesturing towards his bike and telling his team he had had “no power from lap 2” – he later revealed on Instagram that his team found that one of Fabio’s tear off visor strips had been sucked into his faring and was covering the air filter. By now Iker Lecuona was up to 6th ahead of his teammate Oliveira, with Alex Marquez running in 8th in front of Dovi.

Lap 13 saw Tito Rabat crash out of the race, with Miguel Oliveira moving past his Tech3 teammate a lap later. Home hero Valentino Rossi pulled into the pits on lap 17. A few laps later we saw Maverick Viñales begin to reel in race leader Pecco Bagnaia, and with only 7 laps to go Pecco did the unthinkable and crashed out of the lead of his home GP, crushing any thoughts of VR46 Academy riders topping the podium two weeks in a row. Viñales now found himself leading as Fabio Quartararo swarmed all over the back of road block Pol Espargaro – Pol admitted after the race that he knew he was losing pace, but having ridden the Yamaha in the past he knew its weaknesses and took advantage of this by slowing right down for the corners and then pulling away quickly, allowing him to keep Fabio at bay a little longer. This also helped Joan Mir, who had been closing on this duo for a few laps and within no time at all he was on the back of Fabio.

With two laps to go, Mir made a fantastic pass on Fabio and Takaaki Nakagami took over as lead Honda from Marquez. On the penultimate lap Mir made his move on Pol, and Fabio followed him through as KTM rookie Lecuona crashed out of 6th position. There was drama on the final lap as Fabio was issued with a long lap penalty for exceeding track limits, he didn’t take the long lap and continued on to cross the line in 3rd position behind Maverick Viñales and Joan Mir.

Fabio thought he had secured a podium and later stated that he didn’t receive the warning sent from race direction warning him about exceeding track limits, and that he was frustrated and disappointed with the 3 second penalty he received for not completing the long lap penalty which saw him demoted to 4th. He did however say that he was happy with the pace he had this weekend, given how difficulty the last couple of weekends have been.

Maverick Viñales became the first Spaniard to top the MotoGP podium and the 6th different race winner of 2020, having finally converted a pole position to a win – something he has failed to do from his last 9 poles. Clearly he was excited to have won – he leapt over two barriers in parc ferme to celebrate with his team!

Somehow, Andrea Dovizioso still leads the Championship despite having finished in 8th place although there are now only 4 points covering the top four in the Championship. FOUR POINTS! Fabio and Maverick are both only a point behind Dovi, with Joan Mir a further 3 points back. The top 8 are still only covered by 25 points.

Talking of Joan Mir, many are tipping him to go on and win the Championship. He has been the most consistent (and highest scoring) rider over the last few rounds so you can see why people might think he could go all the way. While I do understand their logic, there is no way I am going to call who is going to win this Championship – there are still 7 rounds left, and 175 points still up for grabs – it could be anyone. Well, maybe not anyone, but the way this season is going I’m not ruling anyone out just yet!

I have to say I’ve been impressed with Alex Marquez this weekend. He has been quietly working away all season, making improvements here and there and this weekend he really seemed to take a step forward. I can’t imagine the pressure of being thrust into the Repsol Honda team in your rookie MotoGP season, or of being Marc’s brother but he seems to be taking it all in his stride. I’d imagine that Marc being out is probably helping – he doesn’t have someone on the other side of the garage that is significantly faster than him, making his performances look ‘sub-par’.

This weekend he topped his first MotoGP session and he secured his best finish so far this season in 7th, ahead of Championship leader Dovizioso and less than a second behind fellow Honda rider Nakagami. I really think that the back to back rounds this season are benefitting the rookies – Alex’s qualifying time this week was over a second faster than the one he set last week. Step by step he is getting there!

There was a very poignant moment at the end of the race as Takaaki Nakagami pulled over to the side of the track and paid tribute to his late friend Shoya Tomizawa who lost his life in an accident in the Moto2 race here 10 years ago. Many riders (including Taka) had paid their respects to Shoya before last weekend’s race, but it was lovely if not a little heart-breaking to see Taka crouched in front of the barrier that is now home to many #48 stickers. Although we see Taka pay tribute to his friend every year at Misano, you’d have to have had a heart of stone not to have been moved as he stood up and patted the barrier before returning to his bike.

As the paddock packed up and began heading for Barcelona ahead of next weekend’s Catalan GP, reports started coming through that The Doctor has finally put pen to paper with the Petronas team for 2021. Nothing is confirmed as I send this off, but some are stating that Vale has signed a one year deal with Petronas with the plan being to rider for his own VR46 team in 2022. Vale himself said this weekend that he hopes to have an announcement in Barcelona, so I guess we shouldn’t have too much longer to wait.

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