Thursday, October 22, 2020

Open season: seven riders within less than 20 points as MotoGP™ gets back in the ring at Misano

Sep 17. 2020
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By THE NATION

Four first time winners in six races makes for a cool stat. How about five in seven? The Emilia Romagna GP could give us just that…

Another week, another maiden winner… and another huge twist in the Championship. Can 2020 get any more dramatic? We’re about to find out as MotoGP™ gears up to take on Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli in the Gran Premio TISSOT dell’Emilia Romagna e della Riviera di Rimini, returning to the track after not only the San Marino GP, but also after a day of testing that could well increase the intrigue even more. 

The man in the hot seat now, despite all the twists, turns and surprises of the season, is veteran Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). The Italian had a more muted race weekend last time out, but his trademark consistency brought him home with some solid points – and more than enough to overhaul former points leader Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) after the Frenchman crashed out. Dovizioso is six points ahead and that may not seem much, but he was brimming with positivity after the test and we can likely expect him to be a little further up the board this weekend. When Dovizioso says he’s happy with what they’ve achieved, he really means it…

The fastest Ducati on Sunday, however, was Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing). Coming back from a broken leg, no one expected him to pick up exactly where he left off, but that he did. The impressive Italian blasted through to take his first podium, and made it look easy – so can he do it again? And could he even take to the top step? He’s a candidate to make it five first timers in seven races. His teammate Jack Miller was in the mix early on in the San Marino GP too, and then faded, so he'll be looking for more. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) will want a step forward as well, and Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) could be one to watch. Still struggling to get back to full fitness, he nevertheless put in quite a shift at the test – and was third fastest.

San Marino GP victor Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT), did not test, however. The first time winner was sidelined through illness but will be back for the weekend – so it will be interesting who’s managed to cut the gap to the runaway man at the front. His teammate Fabio Quartararo hasn’t even shown his full hand at Misano either as he crashed out too early to unleash his pace – so can he bounce back and take back to the top step? Ominously for the man who made everyone else fade into the distance in Jerez, he said he was working on race pace at the Misano test… when he already had a fair bit of before the extra track time. Can he regain that top spot?

At Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP, meanwhile, there’s even more to talk about. Maverick Viñales was on pole and then faded back in the early stages on the harder tyre… before finding some serious speed later in the race. Can he iron that out? At the test the Spaniard was fastest and focused on working with the medium tyre for much of the day, which he says is work he’ll continue during the race weekend. If he can solve that and get in the mix earlier on… Jaws music may be heard by those around him.

Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) was tantalisingly close to that 200th podium in the San Marino GP too. Over more than 400 corners of the race, ‘The Doctor’ was there – and then with a handful to go, got mugged by Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). His pace was good and his defence of position exemplary as ever, however, so don’t count Rossi out… especially on home turf.

On the topic of Joan Mir, that Jaws music may need to make a return for him, and not just this weekend. The Spaniard has scored more points than anyone else in the last few races, despite the Red Flag in Styria interrupting what looked like a charge for the win, and the San Marino GP saw the Suzuki man put in a stunner and take his second podium. His ruthlessly brilliant charge through whole postcodes of distance on Sunday to catch and dispatch those fighting for third was something to behold – and then he says he found some more race pace at the test. His gap to the top of the Championship is just 16 points… and he’s the one man in the seven close at the top who hasn’t won yet. Mir is, surely, one of, if not THE candidate to continue the history-making run of first time winners.

His Team Suzuki Ecstar teammate Alex Rins was no slouch in San Marino either. Still recovering from his shoulder injury sustained earlier in the season, the number 42 was right in the podium fight until the last couple of laps. He also explained that compensating for the weaker shoulder ended up giving him arm pump in the latter stages, but another new week is a little more time to recover – and some more time in testing to work towards a solution. The last time a Suzuki was on the podium at Misano before Mir’s second place last time out was in 2007, but that day… there were two. Could we see that again in the Emilia Romagna GP? And which way round? It’s a stunning battle at the Hamamatsu factory between two seriously fast riders.

At KTM, meanwhile, the euphoria of the last few races faded into a tougher first weekend at Misano, but the Austrian factory seemed to have a positive day testing, with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) happy with an improvement in race pace and ending the day in fourth. Can he move forward? His rookie teammate and Brno winner Brad Binder is always an interesting prospect too, and Misano was the first time the South African hadn’t teased a serious threat on race day. Styria GP Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) was also testing and said the focus was on those details they’d be lacking… so if they’ve solved those, what can we expect from KTM in Emilia Romagna?

Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) continues to lead the Honda charge, and despite a tougher race in the San Marino GP there are positives to be expected next time out. Testing saw the Japanese rider end the day happy, and he’ll want to get back to the top five fight he’s frequented so far in 2020. Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) will also want a step forward after a tougher time since some solid opening races.

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro and Bradley Smith, after a solid day of testing and a mountain of laps, will also be looking for a step forward at one of Aprilia’s home races. The Noale factory are continuing work on their new bike and both have scored some solid points finishes, but will definitely want more as the season goes on…

Seven riders are within less than 20 points at the top of the Championship. Every single one of them has now won a premier class race bar one… and that’s the man in form, Joan Mir. Four maiden winners in the first six races hasn’t happened since the first season of the MotoGP™ World Championship. Can Mir – or maybe Bagnaia – make it five in seven? Strap in on Sunday the 20th of September at 14:00 (GMT +2)… we’re about to find out!

MotoGP™ Championship Standings

Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Team - Ducati - 76

Fabio Quartararo* Petronas Yamaha SRT - Yamaha - 70

Jack Miller* Pramac Racing - Ducati - 64

Joan Mir Team Suzuki Ecstar - KTM - 60

Maverick Viñales Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP - Yamaha - 58

*Independent Team riders

 
Marini, Bastianini, Bezzecchi: can anyone bet against more home turf heroics?
A fast faction of Italians dominated Moto2™ last time out. Now, at the same track, can they do it again?

The San Marino GP was all about three men in Moto2™, and the good news for them? We're about to do it all again at the same, home venue. It's Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) who came out on top last time out to extend his Championship lead, and the Italian will be focused on a rinse and repeat.

Marini has nevertheless mentioned a number of times that, second time round at a track this season, he seems to retain the same pace... as those around him only get quicker. Will that prove true again or can the number 10 reverse the trend? Teammate Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) was the man duelling it out with him in the San Marino GP, so he'll certainly be gunning for role reversals in Emilia Romagna.

Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) will more be looking to flip the podium positions completely. He came third - just! - as he made up some serious ground on the duel ahead, and it's a track he knows well, where he took his first Grand Prix win in Moto3™. Back on fighting form and ready for more, Bastianini is another reason to expect an Italian national anthem again on Sunday...

As John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) ruined the all-Italian run with his Moto3™ win last time out though, so too could a British threat do the same in the Moto2™ race in the Emilia Romagna GP. Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) was on pole last time out but starting from pitlane due to a penalty from Styria... and he still managed to cut through the pack into eighth. Where would that pace have taken him from the front row? We will likely find out this weekend...

The likes of Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing), Augusto Fernandez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), Tom Lüthi (Liqui Moly Intact GP), teammate Marcel Schrötter and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Beta Tools Speed Up) will be hoping to make a step forward and get in the mix though... can they move forward second time round?

Sam Lowes vs Italy may well be the story we expect, but plenty can always happen in Moto2™. Tune in for another stunner on Sunday the 20th of September at 12:30 (GMT +2).

 

Moto2™ Championship Standings

Luca Marini Sky Racing Team VR46 - Kalex - 112

Enea Bastianini Italtrans Racing Team - Kalex - 95

Marco Bezzecchi Sky Racing Team VR46 - Kalex - 85

Jorge Martin Red Bull KTM Ajo - Kalex - 79

Tetsuta Nagashima Red Bull KTM Ajo - Kalex - 68

 
Game on: Ogura and McPhee home in on Arenas
The San Marino GP shook the standings once again, with Arenas under more pressure than ever

It was a truly stunning win for John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) last time out as the Scot went from P17 on the grid to the top step of the podium, and it was a headline grabber in more ways than one. With Championship leader Albert Arenas (Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3) crashing out, McPhee's 25 points catapulted him right back to within 14 of the top - and Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia), just 0.037 off the win in second, is now just five off the Championship lead. In the Gran Premio TISSOT dell'Emilia Romagna di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini then, it's game on.

McPhee will be flush with confidence and can be expected at the front, so the pressure will keep piling on Arenas. But the Scotsman will also likely play the long game, with plenty of points left on the table... so expect a measured, valuable ride for some good points. Can Arenas do the same? He did early doors in 2020... but there has been plenty water under the bridge since then.

Ogura, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish. The Japanese rider is simply going racing, getting on the podium, and then doing it again. His only 0 of the year wasn't his fault, and he's not particularly focused on the crown, it would seem - despite having been a favourite for some time. One thing Ogura is focused on is a maiden win, however, with that the last box to tick after getting his first pole position in the San Marino GP. Is now the time?

It's never that simple in Moto3™ though, and there are plenty more riders lining up to join the front freight train battle. Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) won last year and was back on the podium last week, Kömmerling Gresini Moto3 duo Gabriel Rodrigo and Jeremy Alcoba were up there, Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) took Husqvarna's best result of the season, Tony Arbolino (Rivacold Snipers Team) is a consistent threat... they, and more, can all be expected in the Emilia Romagna GP.

There's only one thing for it... tune in for another classic Moto3™ melee on Sunday the 20th of September at 11:00 (GMT +2)!

Moto3™ Championship Standings

Albert Arenas - Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3 - KTM - 106

Ai Ogura - Honda Team Asia - Honda - 101

John McPhee - Petronas Sprinta Racing - Honda - 92

Tatsuki Suzuki SIC58 Squadra Corse - KTM - 75

Tony Arbolino Rivacold Snipers Team - Honda - 70

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