Monday, November 30, 2020

Maximum attack: Morbidelli puts on a masterclass at MotorLand

Oct 26. 2020
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The number 21 flies to a phenomenal win to get right back in the Championship hunt as Rins and Mir return to the rostrum

A faultless Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) didn't put a foot wrong for a formidable second victory of 2020 at the Gran Premio Liqui Moly de Teruel, no one able to stay with the Italian as he also put himself right back in the title fight. Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins took second place to make it back-to-back podiums, with teammate Joan Mir picking up another P3 at MotorLand to extend his Championship lead in yet another dramatic premier class race...

That drama began right from the off on Lap 1. Polesitter Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) got the launch he would have been hoping for and led into Turn 1, just holding off fellow front row starters Morbidelli and Rins. At Turn 2 the first disaster struck as both Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) tumbled into the gravel after the South African tagged the back of the Australian and then, at Turn 5, race leader Nakagami made his first and only race day mistake of the season. The Japanese rider lost the front and was down, sliding out of the race in heartbreaking fashion – no dream podium or victory today for the number 30.

That left Morbidelli leading, closely followed by Rins, with Mir the other key player on the move as the Spaniard made a glorious start from P12, up to fifth on the opening lap and ahead of closest rival Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), who had a tougher opening few opening laps. It was opposite fortunes for compatriot Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing), though, as he was up to P3 and holding off Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Mir.

Quartararo then began slipping into the clutches of Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) and Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Marquez able to escape both to then set the fastest lap of the race on Lap 4; the reigning Moto2™ World Champion latching onto the back of Mir. Up front though, Morbidelli then set a 1:48.089 to take the race lap record at MotorLand, he and Rins a second up the road from third place Zarco on Lap 6. Mir was on the move though, slicing past Viñales at Turn 12, and Marquez wasted no time in following suit, putting in a classy move at Turn 15. The Mir-Marquez duo had their sights firmly set on Zarco up ahead...

Quartararo, meanwhile, was in a serious battle mid-top ten. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), Crutchlow, Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech3) were all line astern behind 'El Diablo', and things started to get spicy. Soon enough, that was also true up ahead. 

The gap between Rins and Zarco was still hovering around the 1.7 second mark, with Mir and Marquez shadowing the fastest Ducati on track. But eventually, Mir pounced on Zarco at Turn 4 as the gap between the leading duo and Mir hovered at 2.2 seconds. Marquez then didn’t take long to follow as he took that incredible inside line round the double left hander at the end of the lap, but Zarco fought back at Turn 1. Marquez was back underneath the Ducati at Turn 4 and the small squabble cost the number 73 time, although Mir was making no real dent into the lead held by Morbidelli and Rins.

The fight behind, meanwhile, had seen Quartararo drop down to P8 as Pol Espargaro diced up the inside at Turn 1, and Viñales was just a few tenths ahead. Oliveira was then climbing all over the back of Quartararo but the latter was strong on the brakes at the end of the back straight. As the battle raged on, Oliveira briefly got through on Quartararo but the Yamaha was back through at Turn 1 as Crutchlow and Dovizioso waited to pick up any pieces. Pol Espargaro was making progress nearer the front of the group as he got ahead of Viñales, and every single point and position counted. The next drama would come from further up the road though, as the second Honda heartbreak of the day hit.

Suddenly at Turn 2, the dream of a third MotoGP™ podium in a row evaporated as Alex Marquez slid out. Rider ok, but left wondering what could have been as Mir disappeared into the distance.

At the front, Morbidelli’s lead over Rins was 0.6 seconds and holding more than firm, with Mir 2.6 seconds behind with nine laps to go. Zarco had been shuffled down to P4, but he was still ahead of Pol Espargaro, Viñales and Quartararo as the latter two sat sixth and seventh heading into the closing stages. Quartararo was still fending off Oliveira too, and Dovizioso was lurking. The Portuguese rider then made his move and it stuck, with Dovi then right behind Quartararo...

Next though, Aleix Espargaro made his presence felt and, after getting so close to making some more gains in the Championship, Dovizioso was on the receiving end of an aggressive move from the Aprilia at Turn 1. The number 04 then ran in too hot at Turn 8 and suddenly, the Italian was down to P12 after crossing the line last time round in eighth.

Viñales and Quartararo were next under threat, however. Oliveira grabbed P6 at the final corner to demote Viñales to seventh, and soon enough joined the battle for fourth between Pol Espargaro and Zarco. Esparagaro climbed to P4 and Oliveira was soon through too, but Zarco wasn’t giving it up that easy, the Ducati man fighting straight back at Turn 13.

Up ahead, it couldn't have been less chaotic for Morbidelli. From half a second to a second and a half to nearly two and still climbing, the Italian was on rails as the gap kept extending. Rins was well clear of teammate Mir as well as the Championship leader was forced to settle for a lonely third, and all three held firm on the final lap. Morbidelli completed his masterclass with more than two seconds in hand, becoming the second repeat winner of the season - and climbing to within a race win of the top in the Championship.

Rins takes 45 points from 50 in Aragon as both he and Morbidelli bring themselves right into the title frame, facing a deficit but far from out of it. Two P3s at MotorLand see Mir extend his World Championship lead with three races to go, however, with 14 points now his advantage over Quartararo.

Pol Espargaro picked up a great P4 from ninth on the grid, another solid ride and some better luck at MotorLand this time around. Just behind the number 44, Zarco vs Oliveira went right down to the wire and in the end, the Ducati eventually pipped the KTM by just 0.038, Oliveira forced to settle for a nevertheless impressive sixth.

Then came Viñales and Quartararo, the Yamaha title contenders finishing P7 and P8 as they slip further away from Mir after a tougher race weekend than expected. Lecuona secured his third top 10 of the year in P9, as Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) rounded out the top 10. Crutchlow and Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) finished P11 and P12, ahead of Dovizioso after his tough race at the office.

Tito Rabat (Esponsorama Racing) and Bradley Smith (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) were the only other two riders to finish, the duo pick up P14 and P15 respectively. Aleix Espargaro was on for a top 10 but his RS-GP suffered an issue with a couple of laps remaining.

That's a wrap in Teruel. The 2020 title race just keeps on twisting and turning and now, 32 points split the top SIX with three races to go. Mir, Quartararo, Viñales, Morbidelli, Dovizioso and Rins will all fancy their chances still heading into two Valencia races and the Portimao finale. Who will win the 2020 MotoGP™ World Championship? Mir leads the field by 14 points, but that can change in the blink of an eye. It’s game on in 2020, and Valencia is up next!

MotoGP™ podium

Franco Morbidelli Petronas Yamaha SRT - Yamaha - 41:47.652

Alex Rins -Team Suzuki Ecstar - Suzuki +2.205

Joan Mir -Team Suzuki Ecstar - Suzuki +5.376

Franco Morbidelli: "I had dynamite for breakfast! I felt great out there today. The feeling with the bike was amazing, we gambled a bit with the tyre choice, we knew we had to do something more and strong re: tyre choice and we decided to go with the medium and it paid off because in the race it was working really well and I was feeling great with the package today. This victory is for the team, they worked really well, unbelievable till late in the box trying to sort out what was the best choice and setting, this is for them. Now we're back in the game, 25 points behind the top... I think we should be as aggressive as we were today in Valencia and Portimao."

MotoGP™ podium L-R: Rins, Morbidelli and Mir
 
Demolition job: advantage Lowes after another Aragon stunner
The Brit dominates and takes the points lead, with 'Diggia' back on the box and Bastianini doing some damage control in third

Not since Phil Read in 1971 has a Brit won three intermediate class Grand Prix races in a row, but Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) now has. The number 22 dominated from the start to pull over eight seconds clear by the flag in the Gran Premio Liqui Moly de Teruel, the 25 points giving him the Championship lead. Second went to Fabio Di Giannantonio (Lightech Speed Up) as the Italian got some redemption after a heartbreaker in the Aragon GP, with Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) doing some solid damage control to take third and stay on the podium.

From pole, Lowes got a perfect getaway and made the dream start. The holeshot was his as Jorge Navarro (Lightech Speed Up) made an shocker from P2 on the grid, with asRemy Gardner (Onexox TKKR SAG Team) grabbing second. Di Giannantonio was soon past the Australian though at Turn 5 and the fast-starting Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing) was soon P3 from the third row of the grid. Lowes was powering off into the distance though and on Lap 2, his gap was 1.5 seconds over Di Giannantonio and continuing to rise.

On Lap 3, Gardner and Bastianini were through on Dixon in quick succession, with Lowes’ lead up to 1.7. Drama then unfolded in the Championship chase once again, with bad luck hitting Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) twice in a week as the Italian was down at Turn 1, losing the chance at more points to cut his deficit. Can he bounce back at Valencia?

Up front, Lowes’ lead was now at the two second mark, and Diggia was 1.3 clear of Gardner in the battle for the final podium place. Bastianini was on a charge though, past Gardner not long after, and with Dixon and Marcos Ramirez (Tennor American Racing) in hot pursuit. Lowes’ lead continued to soar and with Diggia also showing cracking pace, the Italian was leaving compatriot Bastianini behind in the close fight for fifth with seventh place Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Augusto Fernandez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Hector Garzo (Flexbox HP 40) joining the battle too.

Meanwhile, it was a tough race for former points leader Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46). The Italian was down in P14 behind Joe Roberts (Tennor American Racing) and Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing), before Bo Bendsneyder (NTS RW Racing GP) then overtook the Italian and suddenly, Marini was P15 with 12 laps to go, only on for a point. Then, fellow VR46 Academy rider Stefano Manzi (MV Agusta Forward Racing) made it even worse as he demoted Marini to P16...

By then, Lowes was a comfortable four seconds ahead of Di Giannantonio, who was two seconds ahead of Bastianini in a tense as you were at the front. The battle for the top five was anything but that as Fernandez, Martin, Dixon and Navarro diced it out, with everything still to play for. 

There were no such battles for Lowes, however. The Brit was over eight seconds clear by the flag, winning in dominant style and leading from lights to flag to stamp some authority on the Championship to boot - now seven points clear of Bastianini. Di Giannantonio took second and was back on the box after heartbreak last weekend, able to keep some time in hand ahead of Bastianini. For 'Bestia' though, it was exactly what he needed - more consistent podiums, with Lowes seemingly having more than the rest at MotorLand.

In the end, Gardner held onto P4 by just three tenths over a hard-charging Navarro as the Australian and Spaniard rounded out the top five, that scrap rolling on to the flag. Martin took P6 and Dixon got the better of Fernandez in the latter stages to take P7, the Spaniard forced to settle for eighth. Ramirez beat teammate Roberts by a second as the two American Racing riders finish P9 and P10 respectively.

And then came Marini. The Italian dug deep to claw back up to 11th place and he takes home some points, but the number 10 does now drop 23 points off Lowes in the title race to make it a triple-header of races to forget for the former Championship leader.

Vierge, Hafizh Syahrin (Kipin Energy Aspar Team Moto2), Tetsuta Nagashima (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Simon Corsi (MV Agusta Forward Racing) completed the points.

Kasma Daniel (Onexox TKKR SAG Team) and Tom Lüthi (Liqui Moly Intact GP) crashed at Turn 1 unhurt, with Garzo, Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40), Edgar Pons (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) and Manzi joining Bezzecchi in riders who crashed out in Teruel, too.

Three wins from three sees a high flying Lowes take the title lead with just three races to go in 2020. Seven points split the British rider from Bastianini, with Marini and Bezzecchi losing a lot of ground in Aragon. A weekend off now follows before two Valencia races and the season finale in Portimao come thick and fast, and the Moto2™ Championship scrap looks set to go all the way to the wire.

Moto2™ podium

Sam Lowes EG 0,0 Marc VDS - Kalex 39:27.645

Fabio Di Giannantonio Lightech Speed Up - Speed Up +8.425

Enea Bastianini Italtrans Racing Team - Kalex +10.871

Sam Lowes: "I'm really happy because last weekend we were strong, to win the race you have to finish but I felt like Bezzecchi crashed but he had the win, Diggia crashed... it was a great ride but I wanted to improve this weekend and today there was no doubt. I was the fastest guy all weekend, I made a great start and made the race. This is really important for me, there are three races to go, I'm in a good way but to win a race like this takes so much confidence. I said to myself before these three races, Aragon being a track I love, that if I can win these three then I have a chance at the Championship. I didn't expect some results to go my way, but now we're already leading and have a good chance. I'm really happy, the team has done an amazing job to improve from last weekend to this, that's the sign of a great team when they give you a few tenths you don't have to find yourself! Thanks to everyone that's supported me the last couple of years and we'll give everything in these last three races."

Moto2™ podium L-R: Di Giannantonio, Lowes and Bastianini
 
Magic Masia takes Honda's 800th win
The Spaniard does it again, with Sasaki taking his first podium in second and Toba back on the rostrum for third

Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing) is truly the master of MotorLand! A week on from his first win of the year, the Spaniard went back-to-back with another stunning victory - and it's Honda's 800th in Grand Prix racing. It was as close as you like in classic Moto3™ style, however, with Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) taking his first Grand Prix podium in second, just 0.051 off the win, and Kaito Toba (Red Bull KTM Ajo) in third... still within a tenth and a half of the top.

It was polesitter Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) who managed to hold on to the front through Turn 2, the Spaniard swooping round the outside of fast starter (Tony Arbolino Rivacold Snipers Team) and Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) able to fight off key rival Albert Arenas (Solunion Aspar Team) - but not for long, as the Championship leader struck straight back. These were the early bouts though, and plenty was to come as the classic Moto3™ freight train got in gear.

On take two in Teruel, there would be no group splintering off at the front as what seemed like the whole field snaked around MotorLand Aragon, locked together in lightweight class combat. As ever, the leading positions were ever-changing. Down the back straight it was slipstream city as Fernandez slipped from P1 to P3, but on two consecutive laps the Spaniard bit straight back at Turn 1. Fernandez, Arenas, Vietti and Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) all took turns leading on the opening handful of laps, with Fernandez on Lap 5 getting a bit beaten up heading into Turn 1 – the Aragon GP podium man shuffled down to P10. Arenas then took to lead on Lap 6 as Darryn Binder (CIP - Green Power) did his usual Sunday morning routine of fighting his way through the pack, the South African up to P2.

For the next few laps, Arenas was holding firm at the front as the top 26 riders were all line astern. It really was a Moto3™ freight train at MotorLand. However, Arenas was looking formidable and even when the chasing pack was in the slipstream, no one could get past him down the straight. The title chase leader wasn’t getting away though...

With nine to go, Toba tried to take the lead at Turn 1 but he was slightly wide and Arenas went aggressive on the switchback into Turn 2 and held P1, Toba losing out and Masia moving up to try an attack nexy.

Masia was using the Honda grunt down the back straight, but Arenas kept biting back at Turn 1. The Aspar rider was supreme on the brakes, but Masia wasn’t allowing him to get away. After an earlier moment, John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) was back in the hunt for victory and up to P4 and with three laps remaining as the battle royale kicked into overdrive. Masia made a move stick at Turn 1 on Arenas but the latter was back through at Turn 7. Toba was up the inside of both Binder and McPhee, but the Petronas rider got back into third as Masia aimed to get Arenas down the back straight.

However, Arenas continued his great run down the 1km straight. With two laps to go, Masia grabbed the lead at Turn 7 instead, but the Spaniard was then dropped back to third as both Arenas and McPhee carved past at Turn 12. Masia got McPhee back down the straight, but Arenas led onto the last lap and the scene was set.

Done waiting, Masia struck early to force his way through at Turn 1, with Toba making McPhee’s life difficult just behind too. Sasaki followed his compatriot through on McPhee as well, as Arenas squeezed past at Turn 7, and so it was all down to the back straight. Could Arenas hold it? Once more he got a great run out of Turn 15 but Masia was reeling him in and the two KTMs of Toba and Sasaki were tucked in too. Into the braking zone, all three soared past Arenas and Masia stole the lead with two corners to go, then ultimately holding it to the line to take his first back-to-back wins and Honda's 800th Grand Prix win.

Toba had been in second but ran slightly wide, and Sasaki needed no further invitation. Slicing up the inside, the number 71 also got some great traction to home in on Masia - crossing the line just 0.051 down but nevertheless taking a stunning first Grand Prix podium to bounce back from some terrible luck in 2020. Toba was forced to settle for third but got back on the podium, also a bounce back.

Arenas slipped to P4 in the last two corners but crucially, he beats the likes of Vietti and Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia), key Championship contenders. Vietti finishes just three tenths off the win in fifth though, with McPhee in P6. Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech3) rode superbly to  mount a comeback to P7, with Binder suffering in the final couple of laps to finish P8 ahead of Ogura. The Japanese rider was less than a second away from the win but still lost more ground in the fight for the title. Arbolino picks up P10, 2.259 seconds adrift from the win as a crash split the pack on the final lap.

That crash was late heartbreak for Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) as Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) crashed ahead of him, leaving the Spaniard nowhere to go, and he lost out on a solid result after slicing through from P28 on the grid. There were no other crashes.

Another rip-roaring Moto3™ race goes down to the wire, with Masia making history for the second weekend in a row. What does all this mean for the Championship? Well, Arenas extends his advantage to 19 points over Ogura with three races to go. Vietti is 20 points behind Arenas with Masia now right in the hunt, 24 points split tdown heading into the final Valencia and Portimao rounds. Game on!

Moto3™ podium

Jaume Masia Leopard Racing - Honda 37:44.602

Ayumu Sasaki Red Bull KTM Tech 3 - KTM +0.051

Kaito Toba Red Bull KTM Ajo - KTM +0.152

Jaume Masia: "I'm really happy, it's an amazing sensation to win back to back. I'm really happy because after the win last week I felt a bit more pressure because I was closer than before in the championship so I tried to keep my mind calm and keep working with my team. I kept believing in myself, today I struggled a bit more because the rhythm was really fast, it seems like I was fighting all race with the KTMs, they brake really strong so I struggled more but I did the same strategy as last week. Today I struggled more in the straight as the KTMs were so fast but we're here again, two wins, closer and we'll see."

Moto3™ podium L-R: Sasaki, Masia and Toba
Masia celebrates Honda's 800th win
 

Rins takes a second podium in a row and valuable 20 points

Mir extended his Championship lead with third

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