Thursday, October 22, 2020

Four riders in four points: MotoGP™ hits boiling point in Barcelona

Sep 24. 2020
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Four riders split by four points and eight within a victory of the lead... the Championship contenders are ready for battle at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya

They say all good things come to an end but that doesn't appear to be true of the incredibly close battle for the 2020 FIM MotoGP™ World Championship, with every race only tightening the table.  You'd be laughed out of the non-fiction section if you described the plot, because we've had with more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie mystery. And yet, as the paddock arrives at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya to begin the second half of the season, it seems too good to be but it's very much still true. With four riders split by four points, the top eight within a win, six different winners – four for the first time – and still candidates aplenty to keep that record rolling, it Just. Keeps. Getting. Better.

So, let's start at the top. Despite two races at Misano that saw him pick up a seventh and an eighth, it remains wily veteran Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) in the Championship lead on 84 points. He's one of only two riders who've scored in every race so far, and that's paying off despite some tougher weekends. The man knows how to finish a race. He also knows how to win at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, over three seconds clear by the flag in 2017. Can he get back on top?

If Yamaha have anything to do with it, the answer is no. The Iwata marque are the most successful manufacturer in Barcelona with 12 wins, and this season has seen their pace at a couple of venues leave the rest in the dust. But then the question becomes, which Yamaha? It's Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who's second in the standings, one point off Dovizioso, and his recent form at the venue is impressive. In Moto2™ he smoked the field in 2018, and in MotoGP™ last season he took his first podium. That was after a mechanical denied him in Jerez too, and this season Jerez saw him return unbeatable. But then, Misano 2019 to Misano 2020 was a more difficult comparison... 

Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), meanwhile, is also on 83 pointsBut there's no such thing as equal in the Championship, so 'Top Gun' is third because he has one less win than Quartararo. He's the most recent winner, however, and escaped the field with Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) to end the Emilia Romagna GP in a different postcode to the other Yamahas. Can he do that again? 

And then there's Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT). Too quick to handle in the first race at Misano, the Italian was then struck by illness the week after, so he'll be one to watch. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) had great pace before a crash last time out too, and his record at Barcelona is enough to make everyone else blush: five of Yamaha's 12 wins at the venue come from the 'Doctor'. It's also an incredible milestone – although he's been well ahead of the game for a while – as he'll start his 350th premier class race. And he's already started more than a hundred more than anyone else! He was Yamaha's last winner at the track, so it's a good weekend for the number 46 to try and hit back.

Going back to nearer the top of the standings though, it's time to talk about Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). It was a stop-start beginning to the season for the sophomore, as he crashed, took a top five, crashed again... and then began a run of form that has gone from Jaws music for his rivals to full-on Psycho. He's outscored everyone else for a while now, and has been that which, they say, is the key to taking titles: consistent. And not in the top ten, but the top five or the podium. He's still missing that first win – although he seemed on for it before the Red Flag in Styria – but who can bet against him taking one? It's Saturday that could make all the difference for the Mayorcan, as he's been fighting through from further down the grid, most recently from 11th to a seemingly effortless second. If they can fix that... can he become the seventh winner and fifth maiden winner this year?

Almost managing that last time out was Bagnaia, who crashed out of a lead that seemed ominous, and then started diminishing, but nevertheless remained healthy. With Viñales the man getting past and taking his first win of the year – and having already won a good few premier class races – the stat of fifth maiden winner and seventh winner of the season remains attainable for Bagnaia, and he'll be guns blazing to bounce back. Teammate Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) will likely be in a similar mindset too, with the Australian forced out of the Emilia Romagna GP after his bike ate a tear off. He's already won a race, but not this year – although he's been incredibly close...

KTM could be a force to contend with again too. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) took another podium last time out and teammate Brad Binder looked likely to fight for one before he crashed, but most crucially the Austrian factory blasted straight back into that fight at the front after a tougher first weekend at Misano. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) sliced through from P15 on the grid to the top five too, and his teammate Iker Lecuona was battling it out before a crash. How will they fare in Barcelona? Was it the test that saw them bounce back, or was the San Marino GP an anomaly?

The Emilia Romgana GP was also a big step forward for Honda. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) was back in the top six (he's also the second rider to have scored in every race), and rookie Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was only just behind him – ahead of Championship leader Dovizioso. Nakagami will want to keep that consistency rolling, and Marquez could be one to watch if that step forward is a permanent one. He's won three times at Catalunya, once in Moto3™ and twice in Moto2™, which actually makes him the second most successful rider on the grid at the track across all classes... behind only Rossi! What can he do?

There are plenty more names to look out for too. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was MIA last time out but belongs at the front, Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) is looking for a move forward, Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) is already a podium finisher on the Ducati... Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) has been on pole at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya too, although with a different factory. Can they get further up the fight for the top ten again?

Four riders within four points, eight within a win of the Championship lead, six different winners so far and a good few names who could make it seven... who's leaving Barcelona on top? Only time will tell, and this time that time is a little later: tune in on Sunday the 27th of September at 15:00 for the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya MotoGP™ race!

MotoGP™ Championship Standings

Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Team - Ducati - 84

Fabio Quartararo* Petronas Yamaha SRT - Yamaha - 83

Maverick Viñales Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP - Yamaha - 83

Joan Mir Team Suzuki Ecstar - Suzuki - 80

Franco Morbidelli* Petronas Yamaha SRT - Yamaha - 64

*Independent Team riders

 
Moto2™: who can conquer Catalunya?
It'll be a new name on the top step in Barcelona, but there are a few usual suspects...

Despite the incredibly competitive field – and some seriously experienced runners – no one on the Moto2™ grid has won in the class at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya yet. So we'll have a new name on the winner's trophy in the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya, but it looks like we have a few prime contenders...

First and foremost, the two men at the top. Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) retains the points lead on the way in to Barcelona, and he's won twice so far this season. If he does it again, the third win will equal his closest challenger: Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team). The former is five points ahead and took the first win at Misano, before the latter hit back as he bolted to victory in the Emilia Romagna GP, so there's plenty at stake in terms of points, momentum and pride. Bastianini has also previously mastered the track in Moto3™.

Third overall Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46), meanwhile, has now had a Moto2™ win – and he's been on the podium three times in a row for the first time since his Moto3™ days. Can that continue and can he go one step better in Barcelona? His pace has been impressive, and he's now expected at the front. That's also true of the man now behind him in the Championship, Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), as the Brit recovered well from a pitlane start penalty to take P8 and then followed that up with a podium, consistency on point. He also has some ground to make up, a fitting-in-some-ways 22 points off Bezzecchi, so he'll be pushing hard to get in the battle for the podium and win.

The man who'll have more than a few eyes on him if he can return, however, has fallen to fifth overall after missing the two races at Misano: Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo). If he's now allowed to race again, the Spaniard will be on a serious mission to get back on the top step and prove it ain't over till it's over. Will he be back to pick up where he left off? And how much risk will he take trying to gain back lost ground if yes?

Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) were well in the fight in the Emilia Romagna GP too – with the other frontrunners and each other – and Vierge will be wanting to prove a point after crashing out following contact with Schrötter last time out. He's on home turf with a fresh contract for 2021 in his pocket, so there's a bit less pressure and a whole heap of incentive. His teammate Jake Dixon deserves a shout too, having taken a best result of sixth in the Emilia Romagna GP. Can he do that again?

Joe Roberts (Tennor American Racing) went a little MIA at Misano compared to his 2020 form overall, and Tetsuta Nagashima (Red Bull KTM Ajo) needs to bounce back as well. What can they do? And what about impressive rookie Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team Moto2) after a couple of tougher race weekends? He'll want to get back into that battle in the top six or more.

A new name will win the Moto2™ race at the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya, and no one arrives with a record to make the others quiver. It's anyone's game, but the Italian trio at the top will take some beating and Jorge Martin will be on a charge. Find out who comes out on top as the lights go out for Moto2™ at the slightly later time of 13:20 (GMT +2) on Sunday the 27th of September.

Moto2™ Championship Standings

Luca Marini Sky Racing Team VR46 - Kalex - 125

Enea Bastianini Italtrans Racing Team - Kalex - 120

Marco Bezzecchi Sky Racing Team VR46 - Kalex - 105

Sam Lowes EG0,0 Marc VDS - Kalex - 83

Jorge Martin Red Bull KTM Ajo - Kalex - 79

 
Two points at the top: Ogura gains ground on Arenas
Who will leave Barcelona in the Moto3™ Championship lead? The two likely candidates are split by just two points…

Albert Arenas’ (Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3) Championship lead has been shrinking. The Spaniard has been the class of the field on many an occasion in 2020, but with a couple of crashes and the consistency of his closest rival, the gap has now gone down to the smallest it’s been: two points. Can he fight back in Catalunya? Or will Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) – or John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) – turn the tables?

For Ogura, it’s an easier ask as he’s the man just two behind. That means that if he finishes ahead of Arenas on the podium, for one, he’ll most definitely be the Championship leader. So can he? Ending the race on the rostrum is his speciality so far this year, as he’s done it six times – more than any other rider. He’s not yet won, however, so that balancing act of risk vs reward could be a hurdle… but so far it’s done nothing to hold him back from full attack, and a win seems only a matter of time...

For McPhee, it’s a bigger deficit. After a tougher second race at Misano, the Brit is now 21 points off and will be focused on fighting back. With Arenas on home turf though, the number 75 will be gunning for the top step as ever – so as the man on the chase, McPhee will need to do the same to start getting back into the mix right at the top. The Scot has bounced back already this year though, and more than knows how to do it.

There are more home heroes than just Arenas to contend with though. The likes of Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing), Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Jeremy Alcoba (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) have shown more and more speed in 2020 and can’t be counted out from the fight at the front, and then there are the Italians: Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) have already won this year, and Tony Arbolino (Rivacold Snipers Team) has been on the podium. What can they do in ‘enemy’ territory? And how will that shuffle the deck for the top three in the standings?

Find out on Sunday at the slightly later time of 12:00 (GMT +2) as Moto3™ take on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya.

Moto3™ Championship Standings

Albert Arenas - Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3 - KTM - 119

Ai Ogura - Honda Team Asia - Honda - 117

John McPhee - Petronas Sprinta Racing - Honda - 98

Celestino Vietti Sky Racing Team VR46 - KTM - 86

Tatsuki Suzuki SIC58 Squadra Corse - Honda - 75

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