The VROOM Blog, #SpanishGP – A thriller from Miller in Jerez

 In MotoGP, News

Well, that was a weekend of racing that will surely be remembered for a while! Heading into the Spanish GP weekend at the Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto the bulk of the focus was on the Yamaha mounted championship leader Fabio Quartararo who dominated the double header here last season. Any attention that Jack Miller was getting was largely negative after what many described as a ‘poor’ start to his campaign on board the factory Ducati – some were even questioning whether he deserved the ride. It’d been 3 rounds. Calm down people!

That is one thing that I do dislike about this sport (and it probably applies to many other sports) – people are so fast to judge the riders and whether they are deserving of a ride or a particular bike. And the majority of the people making the comments probably couldn’t even keep a MotoGP bike upright for 100 metres. One or two performances that aren’t considered good enough and – bam – that’s you finished in the eyes of some.

And that was where Jack Miller found himself recently, with many people questioning his position as a Factory Ducati rider. He certainly shut those people up this weekend.

Before we get to the on track action from the Spanish GP, we should get up to date with a few bits and pieces. Jorge Martin is still recovering following surgery on bones he broke in Portimão, and is aiming to return at Mugello at the end of the month. In the meantime he will be replaced by Tito Rabat for this round and for the French GP at Le Mans. Tito returns to the MotoGP paddock following his move to world superbikes for this season – it will be interesting to see how he performs on what will be the best bike he has had in MotoGP.

Also back for this weekend is Stefan Bradl who having subbed for Marc Marquez is now back on track for a wildcard appearance in his role as HRC test rider.
It has been announced this week that the Gresini team will remain in the family with Fausto’s wife Nadia Padovani taking over as CEO of Gresini Racing.

Taking over Fausto’s role completely will see Nadia taking both Team Owner and Team Principal titles. Fausto’s sons Lorenzo and Luca will also be involved with the team, with Lorenzo expected to be involved on the administration side of the business while Luca will be given a ‘sporting’ role that will see him present in the paddock this weekend.

It’s lovely that the team will remain a Gresini family affair, and the team is looking forward to building their own MotoGP team for 2022 following their split from the Aprilia factory team at the end of this season.

Talking about new teams for 2022 – Valentino Rossi has this week confirmed that he will have a team on the grid for 2022. The VR46 team will replace the Esponsorama team but there has been no confirmation of what machinery the team will use – Paolo Ciabatti has confirmed that Ducati are talking to both VR46 and Gresini, while Aprilia, Yamaha and Suzuki have all been mentioned as possibilities.

KTM have confirmed their partnership with Herve Poncharal’s Tech3 team will continue for the next 5 years and speculation about their riders is rife. It seems very early in the season to be suggesting that people might lose their rides, but unfortunately in MotoGP that’s the nature of the beast – many contracts for next season will be sorted out quite soon meaning that jobs are at risk.

When you consider the wealth of talent that the KTM teams have in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes at the moment, it’s not difficult to imagine that either Lecuona or Petrucci (or even both) may lose their seat to the likes of Moto2 Championship leader Remy Gardner or his team mate Raul Fernandez. I think Remy would be a good shout for the step up to MotoGP – as would Fernandez although he is a little less experienced than Gardner.

On track this weekend we saw Brad Binder top FP1 on Friday morning, while Pecco Bagnaia topped FP2. FP3 and FP4 were a bit of a crash-fest to be honest. Brad Binder had a big crash at turn 5 which saw him barreling through the gravel trap before Marc Marquez gave everyone a fright by crashing at turn 7 and staying down after hitting the air fence feet first. He did get up and walk away although he was later taken to hospital for what the team described as “precautionary checks”. They also said that Marc was “not experiencing any pain or discomfort” although Marc did later say that he had felt “dizzy” and wasn’t sure where he was. I’m no doctor but surely that smacks at a possible concussion? He returned from the hospital having had scans and was declared fit to return to action in time for FP4.

Aleix Espargaro crashed twice in FP4. Also crashing in FP4 were Petrucci, Savadori, Pol Espargaro who crashed at the same spot as Marc had earlier, and Alex Rins who is off to Barcelona this week to have a scan on his shoulder as this crash has caused “a little pain” at the site of the shoulder injury he sustained here last season.

There was drama just before FP4 as Franky Morbidelli and his team were informed that his best lap time from FP3 had been cancelled and that he would now have to face Q1 – Franky explained that this caused a bit of chaos in the pit box as the team didn’t have any tyres ready for the session having believed that he was straight through to Q2. Franky’s demotion to Q1 meant that Jack Miller was spared and headed straight into Q2.

Q1 saw Franky and Binder progress through to Q2, leaving the likes of Pol Espargaro, Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi in their wake. Marc qualified in 14th which is his worst qualifying result since be stepped up to MotoGP in 2013, although given the fact that this is only his second weekend back, and he had that massive crash earlier in the day, I don’t think 14th is too bad!

At the end of the first set of runs in Q2, it was Fabio Quartararo who was setting the pace ahead of Franky Morbidelli and Taka Nakagami, and by the end of the session it was still Fabio who was the fastest, taking his fourth successive pole position in Jerez. Joining Fabio on the front row would be Franky Morbidelli and Jack Miller, while Taka Nakagami would head up the second row as the top placed Honda rider.

The warm up session on Sunday morning saw crashes for Pol Espargaro, Iker Lecuona, Taka Nakagami and Marc Marquez, but thankfully all were able to walk away and were on the grid ready and waiting for the lights to go out.

Unsurprisingly it was Jack Miller on board his Ducati who grabbed the holeshot and led into the first corner, followed by Morbidelli, Bagnaia, Quartararo and Aleix Espargaro. After several crashes in the practice sessions this weekend, we only had to wait until turn 8 on lap 1 to see our first crasher of the race – Alex Marquez ended his race in the gravel following contact with another rider. Things weren’t going much better for Alex’s brother who found himself dropping to 13th having been passed by Bradl, Pol and Zarco.

Brad Binder crashed and remounted his KTM at turn 2 before at the end of lap 2 Fabio passed Pecco while Rins made his way past Taka Nakagami. Alex Rins ran out wide and crashed at turn 6 but like Binder he was able to remount and continue the race, albeit from much further back than he’d have liked I’m sure.
Fabio Quartararo was on the move forward and up to second place behind Jack Miller, with Franky Morbidelli, Aleix Espargaro, Pecco Bagnaia and Taka Nakagami all behind him. At the end of the fourth lap Fabio made his move and took the lead from Miller. Was he about to run away with this race like he did last year? It certainly looked like it; he soon had a lead of half a second which he extended to 1.3 seconds within a few laps.

Brad Binder crashed for a second time and this time his race was over, as was Enea Bastianini’s who had crashed and remounted but eventually pulled into the pits at the end of lap 12. On lap 15 the gap from Fabio to Miller dropped to 0.7 seconds and within no time at all Jack was all over the back of Fabio’s Yamaha. Jack took his chance and passed Fabio through turn one on the following lap and immediately began to pull away. It wasn’t long before Franky had also passed his former team mate and Aleix and Taka were closing in on the Frenchman.

Taka pulled off an outstanding move around the outside of Aleix Espargaro before moving past a quickly dropping Fabio – had his tyre gone off already? Was there an issue with his bike? Joan Mir joined Taka in passing both Aleix and Fabio, before Aleix also passed Fabio who was now in the sights of his current team mate – Maverick Viñales.

Sure enough, Maverick passed Fabio and was soon followed through by Zarco, Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro. Meanwhile Jack Miller had a lead of 1.8 seconds over VR46 Academy riders Pecco and Franky. The closing laps saw Fabio lose more places, this time to Miguel Oliveira and Stefan Bradl.

Jack Miller scorched across the line to record his second MotoGP win and his first for Ducati. He was followed across the line by Ducati team mate Pecco Bagnaia, and Franky Morbidelli was third. Jack and Pecco finishing first and second marked Ducati’s first one-two finish since Brno 2018, while Jack’s win was the first for Ducati at Jerez since Loris Capirossi in 2006!

It was an emotional win for Jack – he hasn’t won since Assen in 2016 on board the MarcVDS Honda in iffy conditions, and of course there has been all the talk surrounding his start to the season. It seemed as though the whole of the paddock had come out to pit lane to congratulate him as he rolled towards parc ferme getting slaps on the back and applause not only from teams he has ridden for in the past – MarcVDS and the Aki Ajo squad – but from his competitors too.

He arrived in parc ferme and was told not to jump over the barrier to celebrate with his team, so he simply jumped a different one! On his return to the correct side of the barrier he was clearly overcome with emotion, and watching him crouched down with his fingers pressed against his eyes was an emotional sight.

Jack said after the race that he was feeling a “flood of emotions” and that he wished his parents were here to celebrate with him but they are at home due to current covid restrictions. Jack also said that he didn’t expect a win this weekend, but that his “main goal has always been to fight for the championship” even though he got off to a “rocky start.”

Second place man Pecco Bagnaia said he was too slow in the early parts of the race to be able to win as he was trying to save the tyre, but that he was very happy to be leading the championship.

Franky Morbidelli – who has been very vocal in recent weeks about being the only Yamaha rider on old machinery despite being the highest placed Yamaha rider in the championship last season (in 2nd place) – said that he was “not that confident” that he had a chance of the podium this weekend, but that he is happy with the “amazing effort” that his team are putting in. Franky even went as far as calling his crew chief Ramon Forcada a magician!

With an Australian and two Italians on the podium, this was the first time in the last 18 GPs held at Jerez that there has not been a Spaniard on the podium. The last time there was no Spaniard on the podium was 2003 when Valentino Rossi beat Max Biaggi and Troy Bayliss.

Post-race it was revealed that Fabio Quartararo’s issue was not with his bike but was his arm. He was struck mid-race by a severe case of arm-pump and skipped the test on Monday to fly home and have surgery. Fabio has had arm-pump surgery in the past and had a successful operation on Tuesday – he is hoping to be fit to return for the next race which is his home GP at Le Mans.

Talking of the test on Monday, Marc Marquez completed only 7 laps before calling it a day. He said that he felt that he was limited in what he could do due to pain in his shoulder and right arm and decided that it was best to sit out the rest of the day and focus on his recovery for the next race.

In the other side of the Repsol Honda garage, Pol Espargaro had been complaining about HRC’s lack of unity and branded the Jerez race weekend “a mess.” Pol said that it seemed as though everyone was doing something completely different and that there were at least 3 variations of the bike on track at the weekend – one for him, one for Marc and one for the satellite team. Pol pointed out that it’s frustrating being the only one on a particular package as he has no-one to compare himself to – he doesn’t know if the problem is the bike or him or a combination of both. While I do understand his frustration, I do wonder what he expected from a team that have over the last few seasons put all of their eggs in one basket…

Elsewhere, Alex Rins headed back to Barcelona after the test to have his shoulder looked at. Team mate Joan Mir said that he was feeling happy after a “great day” with a lot of work.

KTM spent time working on making the bike work more effectively on the softer tyre – something that has been an issue for them in the early stages of this season, while Valentino Rossi said that he was happy with changes made to his bike. It will be interesting to see if the changes made can help him make improvements to the race weekend when the paddock arrives in Le Mans. I really hope they do – it’s really not fun to watch him at the moment. He has only scored points in one race so far this season and is currently 21st in the Championship – this is his worst start to a season since he stepped up to the premier class back in 2000.

Next up is Le Mans and you have to think that there is a decent chance that we could see a Frenchman win at home, but there will be plenty of others who will be more than happy to rain on that parade!

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