The VROOM Blog: #AragonGP – Brilliant Bagnaia battles Marquez to take first win

 In MotoGP, News

After a British GP that saw history made with six manufacturers (Yamaha, Suzuki, Aprilia, Ducati, Honda and KTM) finishing in the top six of a premier class race for the first time since the Yugoslavian GP in 1972, the MotoGP paddock rocked up in Spain for the Aragon GP.

In news that shocked absolutely no one, Aprilia announced that following a positive two-day test at Misano, Maverick Viñales would be racing alongside Aleix Espargaro for the rest of the season, with Lorenzo Savadori returning to the test rider role. They have said that Savadori will be able to make wild card race appearances this season once he is fully recovered from his ankle injury.

Its actually a solid plan from the Aprilia team – this way Maverick has 6 extra races to get up to speed with the Aprilia before the 2022 season starts. Aleix Espargaro has said that he thinks having a strong team mate like Viñales will push him to become a better rider, and is happy to have his friend as his team mate. He’s all smiles just now, but I don’t see that lasting if (more likely when) Maverick gets to grips with the Aprilia and starts to out-perform him.

That’s a couple of big egos in that garage now, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out – obviously the ideal for Aprilia would be that the pair capitalise on their friendship and work together to improve the bike, but I do think that Aleix won’t be so happy to have Maverick alongside him if he starts beating him. After all – Aleix has been top dog in that garage for 5 years now!

Following on from his MotoGP debut at Silverstone, Jake Dixon has again been given the opportunity to partner Valentino Rossi in the Petronas team this weekend. Jake’s Moto2 slot will this weekend (FINALLY) be given to John McPhee, with McPhee’s Moto3 bike being ridden by Malaysian CEV rider and race winner Syarifuddin Azman.

Cal Crutchlow also continues on the Factory Yamaha for this weekend, ahead of Franky Morbidelli taking the seat on his return from knee surgery at Misano. Massimo Meregalli confirmed that the team have had Franky added to the entry list for his home race – and that despite him not yet being 100% fit, they are happy with where he is at.

I’m so looking forward to seeing Franky back – and on a factory machine. Obviously, he isn’t fully fit yet, and it is a slightly different bike for him so I’m not expecting him to set the world on fire straight away, but it is similar to Maverick’s situation at Aprilia – Franky is going to be on the bike he was due to ride next season a few races early, which for me (and hopefully the team) just means that he has an extra 5 races to get up to speed before 2022.

Talking of Franky, he was awarded the La Moda Veste la Pace 2021 Award in recognition of the Spike Lee inspired equality helmet that he wore at Misano last season. The award celebrates cultural initiatives and interventions against racism, discrimination and exclusion in the world of fashion, arts, entertainment and sport.

Moto3 championship leading rookie Pedro Acosta was confirmed this week as making the move up to Moto2 for 2022. He will step up with his current Red Bull Ajo team, and will be joined by Augusto Fernandez who moves across from the Marc VDS team. Both riders currently run under the number 37 so it will be interesting to see which of them gets to keep it next season – for me, Augusto is already in Moto2 so would maybe have more of a ‘right’ to keep it, but if Pedro moves up as Moto3 champion, I’m sure he will think he should get first choice.

The rumour mill is now suggesting that Iker Lecuona may be on his way to replace Alvaro Bautista (who is switching back to Ducati) at Honda in World Superbikes. Iker himself told Simon Crafar on Sunday morning that he knows his future, but that he cannot confirm anything just yet as they haven’t finalised the deal and put pen to paper. Wherever Iker ends up, I hope he goes well – he is really starting to find his form in MotoGP and it’s a real shame that he looks set to leave the premier class when there is a seat available that might be going to someone who would be jumping straight up from Moto3, but I wont start going on about that again. Not this week anyway…

Finally, before we get to the on-track action, the ‘final’ calendar was confirmed on Saturday, with the FIM, IRTA and Dorna Sports releasing a statement stating that the 2021 season “will comprise a total of 18 Grands Prix, with no more events to be added.”

The statement confirmed the cancellation of the GP of Argentina, citing the ongoing pandemic, logistical restrictions and the infrastructure damage that was done by a fire, and continued that MotoGP looks forward to returning to Argentina in 2022.

Friday morning’s FP1 session saw crashes for Iker Lecuona and Valentino Rossi, and was topped by Marc Marquez who put in a softer tyre at the end of the session to go 0.9 seconds quicker than Joan Mir.

Marc Marquez and Pecco Bagnaia had crashes in FP2, and Marc was the only rider not to improve his time from FP1. It was Jack Miller who ended Friday on top, ahead of Aleix Espargaro, Cal Crutchlow, Johann Zarco and Jorge Martin.

FP3 is usually the session where we see riders putting in serious time attacks towards the end of the session in a bid to pass straight through to Q2, but the soft tyres seemed to go in much earlier this weekend than they usually would, with fast times starting to come in with 19 minutes remaining on the clock. It was Taka Nakagami who set the first of the fast times, and while Pecco and Mir also took turns at the top of the times, it was championship leader Fabio Quartararo who led the way into Q2. He would be joined by Aleix Espargaro, Joan Mir, Pecco, Jack, Jorge, Pol, Marc, Taka, and for the first time in his rookie season, Enea Bastianini.

Enea continued his good form into FP4 where he set the second fastest time, behind Marc Marquez, and ahead of Pecco, Fabio and Miller.

Q1 threw up a few surprises, not least winner here last year, Alex Rins finishing the session in 10th meaning that he would start the race from 20th on the grid, one place behind Aprilia’s new boy Maverick Viñales. It was Zarco and Binder who topped the session to head through to Q2.

After the first runs of Q2, it was Fabio leading from Jorge and Pecco, but it was Pecco who put in a scorcher of a lap to take Ducati’s 50th premier class pole position and a new all time lap record with a time that was 0.313 seconds faster than Marc Marquez back in 2015.

Joining Pecco on the front row would be team mate Jack Miller, and Fabio Quartararo.

The warm up sessions on Sunday morning were delayed due to low visibility – it was pretty foggy looking out there! After hanging around for 45 minutes, the Moto3 riders were eventually allowed out on track and their session, along with the following Moto2 session was cut to just 10 minutes to allow the racing to get underway on time.

Warm up was topped by Pecco Bagnaia, ahead of Taka Nakagami – who this weekend becomes the first Japanese rider to reach the milestone of 200 GP starts.

I don’t usually talk too much about Moto3 or Moto2, however this weekend was a big one for Aki Ajo’s Moto2 team. His riders are leading the Moto2 championship, with Remy Gardner leading Raul Fernandez, but Raul Fernandez’ championship hopes looked to have taken a blow as the young Spaniard arrived at his home race with a broken hand following a cycling accident in training.

Raul had done minimal laps all weekend, but the laps he had completed had been fast enough to secure himself a front row start. There was uncertainty over whether or not he would be able to complete full race distance with his injury, but not only did he complete the race – he won it! With team mate Remy Gardner coming home in 2nd place, the pair secured the teams championship for the Red Bull KTM squad with 5 races remaining, such has been their dominance this season.

John McPhee finished his first Moto2 race in 20th position having won the race to the line against experienced Moto2 rider Xavi Cardelus. A fantastic result following a weekend where he continued to improve his lap time.

As the MotoGP riders lined up on the grid, anticipation was high – could Pecco Bagnaia finally get that first win? How would Fabio Quartararo do? He doesn’t like this track! What about Marc Marquez – he loves this track and has won here 5 times in the premier class.

It was Pecco Bagnaia who grabbed the holeshot and led the field into turn 1, and he was closely followed by Marc Marquez, Miller, Aleix Espargaro and Joan Mir with Fabio Quartararo having dropped to 6th off the line.

Alex Marquez crashed out of the race at turn 5 on the first lap – having scored a podium here last year, while at the end of the lap Jorge Martin passed both Pol Espargaro and Fabio Quartararo into the final turn.

Out front, it remained fairly steady with Pecco leading Marc ahead of Jack, Aleix, Joan Mir and Jorge Martin. Further back however, there were passes aplenty – Brad Binder passed Pol for 8th place, before Pol then lost out to both Iker Lecuona and Enea Bastianini. As Jake Dixon crashed out of the race at turn 9, Crutchlow passed Viñales for 18th, while further forward Binder and Quartararo were having quite the battle for 9th place.

Alex Rins and Johann Zarco had a little battle going on for 13th, with Rins eventually getting the better of Zarco and then passing Pol Espargaro. Meanwhile Iker Lecuona was swarming all over the back of championship leader Quartararo, eventually passing him for 7th into the final corner on lap 6. A couple of laps later, Fabio found himself being passed by another KTM, this time it was the factory one belonging to Brad Binder.

Fabio then had to deal with Italian rookie Enea Bastianini who was making life difficult for the Frenchman. They fought for several laps, and were joined by Taka Nakagami for a few laps too. Brad Binder made his way through on Iker Lecuona, and then Iker found himself back in 10th place having run wide.

Pecco and Marc were now over 4 seconds ahead of Joan Mir and Aleix Espargaro and they were close – you could just tell that Marc was waiting to pounce. He bided his time though, and waited until lap 21 (of 23) to make his move and pass Pecco for the lead, only to run wide and have Pecco take the place straight back. This back and forth continued for the rest of the race – Marc would make a move past Pecco and Pecco would pass him straight back. The last few laps of the race were thrilling – Pecco seemed to have an answer for everything Marc was throwing at him! On his last attempt to pass Pecco – at turn 12 on the final lap – Marc was in hot and ran way wide before coming back onto track behind Pecco’s Ducati.

Pecco held his nerve against a rider who is notorious for applying pressure and making racers crumble (or at least end up 2nd behind him!) and crossed the line to take his first victory in the premier class. Marc followed him over the line in second place, with Joan Mir rounding out the podium places ahead of Aleix Espargaro and Jack Miller. Enea Bastianini scored his best result of the season in 6th while Binder, Quartararo, Martin and Nakagami made up the rest of the top ten.

Pecco’s first win in the premier class is also Ducati’s first race win at Aragon since Casey Stoner won the first race at the circuit back in 2010.

A delighted Pecco was so excited about his win that he slipped into speaking Italian in his post-race interview with BT’s Natalie Quirk, before catching himself and apologising! He said that he was very happy, and that “to achieve this goal is incredible”, before going on to say that beating Marc was not easy! He also pointed out that he is the first Italian winner of the season.

Marc Marquez said in parc ferme that people are saying that the old Marquez isn’t there any more, but he thinks that this race proves that the mentality is still there. He also said that this weekend has been one of the worst for his shoulder and that there is still work to do to get back to his old level. Marc smiled as he said that he enjoyed the battle with Pecco, but that after his run wide on the last lap he said “give up, release the brakes” and just finish the race!

Joan Mir cut a dejected figure in parc ferme, and he explained to Simon Crafar that he expected to be able to fight more that he did, and that he was disappointed with the result. He did go on to say that he was happy with a podium, and that he needs to keep getting podiums and hope that Fabio makes some mistakes as the season goes on.

Fabio Quartararo does keep the championship lead and Pecco Bagnaia leapfrogs Joan Mir into second place, 53 points behind Fabio. As we head into the final 5 races, there are now only 8 riders who can still mathematically win the championship – Fabio, Pecco, Mir, Zarco, Miller, Binder, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales.

Next up is Misano, and no doubt Pecco Bagnaia will be looking to score a win at home now that he has finally taken his first win! I wouldn’t bet against him…

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