Thursday, October 01, 2020

Race, race, repeat: the reigning Champion returns to face his rivals for the crown

Aug 04. 2020
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By THE NATION

How do you solve a ‘problem’ like Quartararo? No one was quite sure in Jerez but add a new track, a dash of Marquez and stir…

It’s been quite the start to the 2020 premier class season and a clean sweep for Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) so far, with the Frenchman on a maximum of 50/50 as we return to race in the Monster Energy Grand Prix České republiky. His two races in Jerez were pitch perfect and within tenths of each other, his gap at the front comfortable – at least in terms of margin – and he’s most definitely the man to beat as we arrive at Brno. The man who held that moniker on the way into Jerez, however, will now be back. 

A broken humerus in a dramatic Spanish GP put paid to Marc Marquez’ (Repsol Honda Team) first two chances to score points in 2020, despite a superhuman effort in a couple of sessions in the Andalucia GP to come back and fight for some. But two weeks on, Marquez’ impressive ability to even ride the bike at a competitive level just days after surgery say the reigning Champion may well be managing more than that in Czechia. What can he do now? And what will he be aiming to do?

It’s likely unrealistic – although many have been wrong before – to expect Marquez to fight for the win just yet, but it’s most definitely realistic to start looking at the long game. The season remains extensive despite the delays and cancellations obliged by the Covid-19 pandemic and there’s definitely time. The question just remains as to whose side it’s on.

Looking at the last few Czech GPs, the man third overall – Dovizioso – should allow himself a spring in his step on the return to Brno. A win in 2018 and second place last year speak well of his chances, and something that may well be crucial to the likes of ‘Undaunted Dovi’ is the familiar territory we’re returning to. Although everyone knows Jerez, no one knew Jerez in the 40 degree heat of July. Everyone knows Brno in August. 

For Marquez on the comeback, this is good news too – as is the fact that Dovizioso leads the pencilled in expectations, because it was Yamaha who bit first in Jerez. Them fighting each other only buys the reigning Champion time, and Yamaha’s last win at the track came in 2015 as now-test rider Jorge Lorenzo put in a lights-to-flag special. On the one hand, five years seems a long time but on the other, it was four in Jerez since Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) took Yamaha’s last win there… and Quartararo felled that with something that looked like ease, twice in a succession that was most definitely quick. Add that to the fact that five of the six places on the podiums in Jerez were filled by Iwata marque machinery, and Yamaha were 1-2-3 in the Brno test last year, which is the last time we were on track at the venue. Marquez had also expected them to threaten on race day in 2019, that’s why he said he pushed from the off. But then what about their engines used so far? And top speed deficit to some? 

But enough about the top three and the number 93, as there are a good few more names in the hat in an astonishingly competitive 2020: Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) has serious speed and will want to unleash that after a crash last time out, and his teammate Francesco Bagnaia looked set for a first podium in the Andalucia GP too before seeing it snatched away by a technical problem. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) suffered a similar story. Rossi was back on the box and knows a fair few things about Brno… and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) had a barnstormer of an Andalucia GP to keep the ‘Doctor’ honest, ending the race fourth overall in the standings to boot.

And what about KTM? The Austrian factory showed awesome speed in Jerez over both race weekends, and although there was some bad luck and trouble for them on Sunday, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) is fifth overall. And his rookie teammate, Brad Binder, had stunning pace. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) too. So what can they do in Brno? On the lead up to two home GPs back-to-back at the Red Bull Ring right after this one, they’ll want a few more points in Czechia – and to confirm their speed.

As Marquez returns, there are also two more riders suffering through the pain barrier, although both managed to finish the Andalucia GP. 2016 Czech GP winner Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol), with more recovery time for his scaphoid, will want to be able to go the distance a little better, and Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins, with a dislocated shoulder compounded by a small fracture, will be aiming to take a step forward too. The Spaniard took a hard-grafted tenth place last time out, but after Suzuki’s incredible preseason showing he’ll want to recover more ground and score as quickly as possible. The good news for the Hamamatsu Factory in the second race in Jerez though was Joan Mir, with the number 36 putting a crash in the season opener behind him to take fifth and get some reward for his speed. He’ll be even more keen to conquer Brno too, as the Czech track was the scene of his huge crash in testing last season that sidelined him for two races.

Finally, there’s also the fight for Rookie of the Year to keep an eye on. Quartararo has Independent Team rider standings sewn up so far, but the Rookie fight is closer than the points would have us believe. Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) put in an impressive ride to eighth in the Andalucia GP and has avoided mistakes on race day, but Brad Binder – he of the aforementioned stunning pace – will be looking to fight back after losing out on a bigger points haul, and Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) will want in. Brno is a good track for Alex Marquez though, so the Spaniard will be keen to keep that nice nine-point cushion accrued on home turf…

Fast, undulating corners cut through the forested hillsides the Automotodrom Brno calls home, and they are ready to host the FIM MotoGP™ World Championship. Tune in for the first of a triple-header blockbuster of race weekends as we head east from Jerez to the hills of Moravia. Can Marquez start to play catch up? Or have the likes of Quartararo already bolted?

And remember… there are now 12 premier class races left in 2020, with another Grand Prix in Europe just added.

MotoGP™ Championship Standings

Fabio Quartararo Petronas Yamaha SRT - Yamaha - 50

Maverick Viñales Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP - Yamaha - 40

Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Team - Ducati - 26

4 Takaaki Nakagami - LCR Honda Idemitsu Honda - 19

Pol Espargaro Red Bull KTM Factory Racing - KTM - 19

 
Will Bastianini and Marini overhaul Nagashima in Brno?
Any of the top seven in the Championship on the way into Brno could leave Czechia in the lead. But the Italians appear to be coming…

Three races, three winners is the simplest way to write the story of Moto2™ so far in 2020.  It was Tetsuta Nagashima (Red Bull KTM Ajo) taking the lead in Qatar before he had to settle for understudy in Round 2, with Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) bouncing back to take the second victory of the season. Then it got even closer, with a crash during the Andalucia GP seeming to put the Japanese rider on the back foot – and a new winner emerging onto the top step, for the first time in the intermediate class no less. The new kid on the victory block was Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team), and it means we head into Brno with only five points separating the top three. 50, 48, 45 – Nagashima, Bastianini, Marini. With another 75 in play in the next three weekends.

Last year, Bastianini was third and took his first podium in Moto2™ in Czechia. That bodes well for him. Marini was fifth, however, and took a podium in 2018, which also bodes well… and Nagashima was ninth last season, which was a solid finish for him at the time. But do past results even give us a clue anymore in a new-look 2020, with Triumph bedded in as official engine supplier and so many on a new roll of form?

MB Conveyors Speed Up’s pairing of Jorge Navarro and Fabio Di Giannantonio will be hoping so. The Spaniard has had an uncharacteristically up and down start to this season and he was only just off the podium last year, and ‘Diggia’ was on it for the first time in Moto2™. Tom Lüthi (Liqui Moly Intact GP) will hope track records count for something too, as the Swiss veteran is the man in the field to have previously won a Moto2™ race at the track. Both he and teammate Marcel Schrötter will be hoping for more, having both had a tougher start to 2020 than many expected. Speed has been there, but Sundays have sometimes been an uphill battle and turning it around now would really shake things up.

Aron Canet (Openbank Aspar Team Moto2), however, is also Grand Prix winner at the circuit, only he did it in Moto3™. The Moto2™ rookie has been one of the standout performers of the season so far, quietly – or maybe not so quietly – racking up the points and impressive finishes. Canet is fourth overall in the standings after his first three intermediate class races, which is a record to write home about in itself, but surely a first podium is only a matter of time? Add to that Speed Up's successes last season in Czechia...

It won’t be easy to make that leap, however. Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), having missed Qatar through injury, was back on it in Jerez and took two fourth places. Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) unleashed his pace into points despite injury, Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo) has been on pole and the podium, Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) is still very much in that mix in the standings… and what about Joe Roberts (Tennor American Racing)? The American was a star of the show in Qatar before having a tougher time of it in Andalucia, but his best finish before Losail this year was a tenth in Brno. In the rain, but on his Moto2™ debut. And it’s a track he’s loved since racing in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup…

Another weekend, another track, and another 25 points on the table. Any one of seven could leave Czechia on top of the pile, but the momentum certainly seems to be dancing to the beat of Il Canto degli Italiani for the moment. Can Nagashima strike back? Or are we to enjoy a fourth different winner in the fourth race of the season? Find out on Sunday the 9th of August at 12:20 (GMT +2) local time.

Moto2™ Championship Standings

Tetsuta Nagashima Red Bull KTM Ajo - Kalex - 50

Enea Bastianini Italtrans Racing Team - Kalex - 48

Luca Marini Sky Racing Team VR46 - Kalex - 45

Aron Canet Openbank Aspar Team Moto2 - Speed Up - 30

Lorenzo Baldassarri Flexbox HP 40 - Kalex - 28

 
Can anyone topple Arenas in Czechia?
The Championship leader crashed out in the Andalucia GP and the standings tightened up. Will Brno bring another shake up?

Albert Arenas (Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3) was on the roll of rolls to start the season. Winning in Qatar and coming back to racing after four months to pick up exactly where he left off, the Spaniard had started to require the Jaws music to accompany his well-thought out tactics in the latter stages of a Moto3™ race. But then disaster truck in the Andalucia GP and he crashed out, leaving his rivals with a big chance to hit back. For two of them certainly, it was a chance they were able to take.

One was Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse), who is now in second after his stunning win last time out - the Japanese rider looking like a serious threat. He said he was surprised to take pole because he’d been working towards Sunday pace, and Sunday more than saw that pay off as he took command of the front group and seemed the favourite from lights out. John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) made up some ground too after a crash in the Spanish GP, and the three are now covered by just 10 points. Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) was prevented from gaining ground after he hit some bad luck, but he remains in the mix and at Brno, it’s anyone’s game.

For McPhee, the Czech Repubic holds good memories as it’s the site of his first Grand Prix win. Suzuki has had some solid speed at the venue too, and Tony Arbolino (Rivacold Snipers Team) was on the podium there last year. Ogura was in the top six – as a rookie – and Darryn Binder (CIP – Green Power), who stormed from the near back of the grid to take fourth in the Andalucia GP, was a top ten finisher in 2019. The likes of Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse), Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) and Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing) have solid finishes at the track too, adding more and more names to the hat for who will be fighting it out it what will surely prove another Moto3™ classic battle at Brno.

Albert Arenas remains both the Championship leader and the probable favourite in 2020 despite that crash. But the cast of characters looking to bite back and shuffle themselves to the top is sizeable, and we’ll find out who leaves in the driving seat soon enough. Moto3™ race on Sunday at 11:00 (GMT +2).

Moto3™ Championship Standings

Albert Arenas - Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3 - KTM - 50

Tatsuki Suzuki - SIC58 Squadra Corse - Honda - 44

John McPhee - Petronas Sprinta Racing - Honda - 40

Ai Ogura - Honda Team Asia - Honda - 36

Gabriel Rodrigo Kömmerling Gresini Moto3 - Honda - 30

 
 
 
 

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