Aragon GP race weekend preview: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
MotorLand Aragon is one of the new wonders of European motorsport. The technical and spectacular circuit, one of the most recently completed on the calendar, has swiftly moved from new to modern classic for both riders and fans; often cited as a favourite by many on the grid. The motorsport complex in the region of Teruel is a newbuild, but it was constructed following the traditions of racing in the nearby town of Alcañiz – so much history has not yet been written in the asphalt, but it certainly rises from the dry, arid landscape of the earth.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) may not have grown up as close to MotorLand as he has to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but the championship leader considers the track to be his home venue – and it’s clear why. The Catalan coastline is long gone after the journey through the pockets of population that dot the roads up towards La Segarra in the province of Lleida, as the sea is replaced by the river Segre and the landscape loses its green. Cervera, the 2013 and 2014 world champion’s hometown, therefore shares more of the attributes of Alcañiz and the province of Teruel than those of the coast, although they lie over the border. Surrounded by dirt track training grounds, dry earth and 93 flags, MotorLand is Marquez’ anthill – and it’s also his favourite track.
The championship leader didn’t get to see the finish line on his first visit to the track in 2010 after being wiped out on the first lap, but he had started from pole in that 125 world championship winning year. Fast forward a season and the debut was put right in Moto2™, as Marquez took pole once again and added the race win as he staged his stunning championship comeback on the chase behind Stefan Bradl. After a war with key title rivals in 2012 in his world-beating Moto2™ campaign, Marquez was second, and 2013 saw the rookie MotoGP™ world champion take another pole position and victory – despite the controversial incident with teammate Pedrosa in which the older Spaniard’s traction control cable proved a casualty. Then, Marquez had to chase down reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) to earn his 25 points, before 2014 was his first mistake of the year in the wet as Lorenzo bounced back. 2015? Another season, another pole – but another mistake. The only man to have won back-to-back MotoGP™ world championships since
Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) may not have a full scoreboard at the Aragones circuit, but his qualifying record shows he has unrivaled speed.
Competition is tough for the newest kid on the block, however. Misano saw teammate Dani Pedrosa take one of the most spectacular wins in recent MotoGP™ history, and the rider from Sabadell is also a winner at MotorLand. Although Casey Stoner won the first two editions of the Aragon GP, Pedrosa was second both times and hit back in 2012 to pass Lorenzo for a dominant win over six seconds clear. 2013 saw him unable to finish after damage to his traction control made him crash out, before in 2014 his fate mirrored teammate Marquez’ as both Repsol Honda riders slid out of the lead in the rain. In 2015, however, the 3-time world champion was back in the running and staged a stunning wheel-to-wheel battle with Rossi – beating the ‘Doctor’ over the line to P2 after their mammoth dogfight. Pedrosa may not always have found luck on his side, in the MotoGP™ world championship or at MotorLand, but his pace around this particular home track has always been menacing.
Lorenzo was the man ahead of that incredible fight in 2015. Taking off into the distance with Marquez crashing out as he tried to stay on his tail, the 5-time champion took a commanding win on a day that would prove decisive come the season finale in Valencia. 2014 also saw Lorenzo win, as the Mallorcan kept it on the road when others suffered in the rain, and he took P2 in 2013 as Marquez managed to convert pole into his one MotoGP™ victory at the track. 2012 was Lorenzo on pole but Pedrosa over the line, with a podium in 2011 and a P4 in 2010 completing the ‘Spartan”s history at Aragon. Although Pedrosa has beaten him over the line more than not at MotorLand, Lorenzo is the most successful rider on the grid in terms of victories with his back-to-back triumphs in the last two years. Back on the podium in Misano, the reigning champion will surely prove a threat at another home race for the Spaniards at the top of the table.
After the familiar turf of Sweet Home Misano, P2 in the title fight Valentino Rossi will be pushing to keep bringing down the gap to Marquez at the top. Struggling at MotorLand during his years with Ducati, the Italian took a podium back on a Yamaha in 2013 – but some way back from the incident that had seen Pedrosa crash out in front of him. 2014 was a difficult Sunday after a bad crash in the wet for the Italian legend, but 2015 was a spectacular fight at the front at least, if not for the victory. Although beaten by Pedrosa on the day and Marquez not seeing the flag, the 9-time world champion’s pace was big progress at the newer Aragon track. His record may not make for illustrious reading at the venue, but Rossi will be encouraged by many other races in 2016 that had traditionally seen his rivals prove safer bets – particularly Montmelo and Jerez.
After Pedrosa made it eight from eight in Misano, Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) may no longer be the most recent winner, but he remains the newest. The next man on track behind the top four in the championship in Misano, the Silverstone winner had another great race to rake in more points and consolidate his placing ahead of his move to partner Rossi in 2017. Viñales took P11 in his rookie MotoGP™ season, but further back his record at the track makes for good reading, with podiums in the lower class – before a maiden pole position in Moto2™in 2014, followed by his second victory in the class. Viñales and the Suzuki are in a different world to the one they were in last season at MotorLand, and MotoGP™’s freshest new victor could prove one to watch.
Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone will surely play a role, too, as both have had podiums at the track – Dovizioso in MotoGP™ and Iannone in the lower classes, in particular a rookie Moto2™ victory from pole in 2010, although Iannone will be recovering from an injury in Misano. And the pretenders to the crown in the Kingdom of Aragon don’t end there in the season that has seen eight different winners take to the top step, because no one can be counted out. There will be another familiar face back on the grid at MotorLand too: ‘Kentucky Kid’ Nicky Hayden. The MotoGP™ Legend and 2006 world champion will be back in action to replace injured Jack Miller at Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS for the weekend, fresh from another podium finish in WorldSBK.
Can Pedrosa’s eighth wonder of the year be followed by another, different ninth? Recent history says it will be tough to beat the home crowd’s dominion over the throne at MotorLand – but 2016 proves recent history can be rewritten.
The Anthill of Aragon awaits, and the supporters of all the Spanish riders will be sure to fill the grandstands. Marquez’ however may outnumber his contemporaries as he chases his third premier class crown – and he’ll definitely be looking to #SpreadtheRed as he heads home.
Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) had a more difficult start to the season than fellow title rivals Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) and Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), finding himself falling behind the newer kids on the block, but the Frenchman dug deep and came back with a stunning mid-season stint to take back the lead – and extend it. Since then, however, the roulette wheel seems to keep landing on yellow. The landscape of the Moto2™ world championship is a very different one to how it looked for Zarco in 2015. MotorLand Aragon was the Frenchman’s first chance at the title then – fast forward a year and the reigning champion is searching for his first podium in four races at the Spanish venue. He is ahead by three points, but the dice have appeared loaded of late.
Rins is the man on the move. He broke free from the podium fight on the Riviera di Rimini to lead the race by a stunning margin in the early stages; managing the gap to perfection, pushing when it counted and still finding the strength to mount a last challenge on Baldassarri for the win – despite the pain in his shoulder from a collarbone break ahead of the British GP a week before. With a P2 in the bag and another 20 points, the Spaniard must have been surprised to see his healthy title rival off the podium, as Zarco battled through to cross the line in fourth. P3 contender Lowes, after a tough weekend and being forced to push to the limit to keep himself in the game, then crashed out – effectively crashing out of the title chase, too, as 5 races remain. Misano definitely answered any questions Zarco may have had left about the 2016 title fight, however: it’s going down to the wire. A two horse race it may prove to be, but it’s now the closest championship margin Aragon has seen since Alex Marquez took the lead from Jack Miller in Moto3™ in 2014. Rins has broken his collarbone, qualified in P19 and still clawed back 31 points on Zarco in the last three races. If that wasn’t enough to leave the Spaniard heading into the next round on a high, then the venue surely is: home sweet home.
In his rookie year in the intermediate class in Moto2™, Rins was impressive. He won races, had pole positions and set fastest laps on his way to P3 in the final standings, and one of his best performances was at his home track of MotorLand Aragon. The Spaniard grew up 20 minutes from the motorsport complex and it proves a true home race for the pretender to the crown, demonstrating that with a Moto3™ win, two Moto3™ pole positions, and a Moto2™ battle in 2015 with reigning champion Tito Rabat, in which Rins crossed the line less than a tenth back – as a rookie. That rookie is no more, as proved consistently this season. He’s the man on the charge and gaining strength race-by-race as he recovers from an injury that at the time had seemed a disaster for his title hopes. The 3 point deficit he’s looking at now must seem well worth the pain of his recent heroics, with five races remaining for him to try and continue his momentum.
Zarco had his first chance to win the title at MotorLand Aragon last year, and the Frenchman’s odds of achieving the feat were long but very possible – he was also the first man ever to head to the Spanish venue with a chance of heading home with the silverware on Sunday. As the pressure mounted, the Ajo rider then found himself off the podium in P6. Keeping that pressure in check with such a small gap to his closest challenger is unchartered territory for the Frenchman – something that is not true of Rins. The Spaniard may never have won the Moto3™ crown, but he fought for it down to the last corner of the last race in 2013 – and the man who beat him on the day just became MotoGP™’s newest race winner. Moto2™ experience skews the odds towards Zarco just as proven history tips them back towards Rins.
The race is sure to be more than a two-man show, however. Misano saw a new coronation in the intermediate class, with Forward Racing’s Lorenzo Baldassarri taking that which he so narrowly missed out on in Mugello: his maiden win. Baldassarri has already showed impressive pace in Moto2™ and had podium finishes, but he’s now got a feather in his cap he’ll be more than aware of when the lights go out. Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) will be another rolling into Aragon on a high after another podium finish, and having proved the fastest man in most of Misano’s sessions. He’s also a winner after his victory in Assen, and is a consistent frontrunner that could begin to necessitate some quick championship maths for other pit boxes in the paddock – as could Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten).
After sitting out the Czech GP foliowing his crash in qualifying, the Swiss veteran and former 125 champion hit back quickly at Silverstone and was in with the top group in Misano once again. Luthi’s swift comeback of sorts has also seen him take P3 in the standings from Sam Lowes by 4 points. Although 50 behind Rins, the Garage Plus Interwetten rider will certainly be focused on standing on the stage in Valencia as a top three finisher in the 2016 Moto2™ season. That, plus Lowes on a bounce-back mission and Brno winner Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP) looking to move up the order in the intermediate class before his leap up to MotoGP™ in 2017, is sure to assure the Moto2™ showdown at MotorLand Aragon will prove a classic – and that’s not including the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS duo of Franco Morbidelli and Alex Marquez.
Morbidelli is now a regular podium threat and looking for his first victory, and he has nothing to lose in giving it a shot – something he’s proved more than willing to do. Alex Marquez, who had a solid top ten finish in Misano but has been a consistent top 5 runner in the races preceding the Riviera di Rimini, is looking for his first podium – and on home turf. With two Moto3™ podiums at the track – one as a rookie in 2013 and then a P2 by only 0.057 over the line in 2014 – Marquez knows his home circuit well, and has good memories there. It was the track that saw him take the Moto3™ championship lead for the first time; something he subsequently didn’t relinquish.
Zarco and Rins may now be lonely at the top of the standings, but they surely won’t prove so in the race. And although nothing else can be guaranteed, with a 20 minute journey up the road to the track, hometown hero Rins is sure to be the first one there.
As yet unused superlatives are running dry for Brad Binder’s (Red Bull KTM Ajo) title challenge in 2016. With a 106 point lead as the lower class return to Spanish soil, the South African is so stunningly clear of the field with 5 races remaining that he has his first chance to win the title at MotorLand – a possibility so far only enjoyed by Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) in Moto2™ in 2015. Those odds were long, but Binder’s chances are promising: if he leaves the track with a more than 100 point advantage, he is world champion.
So what does that mean? Chiefly, as a rider who races to win and has continued to do so despite weighing up the risks in his title campaign, it means that if Binder wins the race or comes second, he will be crowned. If closest challenger Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3) wins and Binder is third or lower, he won’t. More than that, it’s about the points.
In a big challenge for Bastianini, if the gap is 100 points exactly and the ‘Beast’ takes the victory in Aragon, the South African will have to wait – but the Italian would have to win every single remaining race of the season, and Binder would have to suffer a DNF or DNS. Bastianini did begin from pole at Aragon in 2015 however – and then crashed out on the last lap. With Brad Binder.
There are also others waiting in the wings. No rider on the current Moto3™ grid has won at MotorLand Aragon, but one man has stood on the podium: Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0). Although the Spaniard recently relinquished P2 to Bastianini in the standings after a DNF in Misano, he is only five points behind the Italian and can still very much mathematically take the title. If Navarro were to win, the maths gets a little more difficult – although Binder still very much remains the man holding the best hand – and the EG 0,0 rider would then find himself with one advantage over Bastianini at least: he has won a race this season, his first, at the Catalan GP. So he’d have to win Aragon plus another three races to equal Binder’s win count – and again, the South African would have to DNF or DNS in every single one.
Navarro has had a tough run of late, but even battered and bruised he is sure to push at the limit on home soil. However, the Spaniard dislocated his shoulder in Misano – so he’ll have to pass a medical on Thursday before being allowed to take part in the weekend. In addition, Honda have not yet won at MotorLand Aragon – although they came incredibly close in 2014 when Alex Marquez crossed the line only 0.057 behind the victor.
Whilst the title fight whets appetites and primes calculators up and down pitlane, the race itself is sure to thrill once again. After an uncharacteristic-for-Moto3™ duel in Misano, Aragon will surely see another freight train front group battling for the win. With Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold) having been a frontrunner in 2015 and set a new lap record in the early stages, he could play a role, as could the season’s superstar rookies – who have raced at the circuit in the FIM CEV Repsol Moto3™ Junior World Championship. With a field fresh on the Moto3™ world championship stage like a lot of the class of 2016, the history books may have to open a few pages further back. Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) did the double in Aragon in the CEV in 2015, on a grid that also included eventual Moto3™ Junior World Champion Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) and EG 0,0 rider Aron Canet – and back another few pages takes us to Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing) and his two titles in the CEV. The Frenchman didn’t race at world level at MotorLand in 2015 through injury – so this will effectively be a rookie weekend in Moto3™ for him.
And then there’s Maria Herrera (MH6 Laglisse), who was the first woman to ever win a race in the CEV, and she did it at MotorLand Aragon in 2013. A wildcard in the world championship at the same venue in the same year followed, before another top six finish at the track in the CEV in 2014. Last year in the Moto3™ world championship, Herrera lined up in P30 after a tough qualifying – and gained 17 places to score points in 13th.
The race will certainly be an exciting one as Moto3™ return to the old Kingdom of Aragon with Binder’s throne there and waiting. After a season like the South African has enjoyed so far, he seems unlikely to stumble on his way towards it.