The VROOM Blog, #AlcanizGP – Fabulous Franky fires back

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

As we returned to Aragon for the second time in as many weekends, there were only four races left of this superb MotoGP season. Joan Mir was leading the championship by 6 points over Fabio Quartararo, with only 15 points covering the top four. Alex Marquez was silencing his critics with 2 superb back to back podium finishes, and there seemed to be chaos reigning at Ducati even has Andrea Dovizioso somehow clung on to the possibility of winning the championship.

Leaving Aragon after the last of the current triple header of races, things would certainly look a little different.

The battle of the rookies looked largely to be going Brad Binder’s way earlier on in the season – he scored his first MotoGP race win in only his 3rd race after all to become South Africa and KTM’s first premier class winner, but with a recent run of form culminating in back to back podiums in Le Mans and Aragon, Alex Marquez has well and truly thrown his hat back into the ring. As the action came to a close last weekend, both Brad Binder and Alex Marquez were level on 67 points in the championship and as it turns out, at the end of this weekend they would still be level on points… I’m looking forward to seeing how the pair progress over the final three races of the season…

Fellow rookie Iker Lecuona shouldn’t go unmentioned either – the start of his season may have been a rocky one with three consecutive DNFs, but he has worked hard to improve as the season has progressed. He scored two top 10 finishes at the Red Bull Ring, and was on course for a 6th place finish before a late crash in Misano. Coming into the second weekend at Aragon, Iker had finished in the points in the last 3 races, and then we saw him putting some fairly impressive moves this weekend as he completed his fourth points finish in a row with a 9th place finish this weekend having also made it through to Q2 for the first time.

Heading into the weekend we heard the news that Takaaki Nakagami had finally signed a deal to remain at LCR Honda. With the news earlier in the season that Alex Marquez would be joining the team and that Cal Crutchlow would be leaving, it was widely expected that Nakagami would remain in place, but this is MotoGP in 2020 so nothing was 100% until it was confirmed that he had in fact put pen to paper on a new deal. A new deal that will see Taka remain with HRC for ‘multiple years starting in 2021’ and will give him the opportunity to ride the ‘latest bike’ – Taka is currently on last years’ Honda – with all 4 Honda riders on the grid being on the same bike next season. I think he and Alex Marquez will be a pair to watch next season, although I do wonder whether Honda jumped the gun a little in moving Alex to the LCR team before he had even raced the Repsol Honda given how well he is performing now.

In other contract news 2021 will see both John McPhee and Jake Dixon remain in their current seats at Petronas SRT, with John remaining in Moto3 and Jake in Moto2. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed to see John remaining in Moto3 – he was expected to step up to Moto2 with the team for next season and I believe there was a clause in his contract to allow that to happen if he was running in the top 3 of the championship by mid-season (which he was), but Jake’s performances this year have put the team in a difficult position as they don’t want to let him go. I’ve watched Jake Dixon rise through the ranks in the British Superbike paddock, and I’m delighted to see how well he is running at the moment. I’m really hopeful that we will see Jake continue to grow in stature in the class, and that we will see him in MotoGP sooner rather than later.

And as for John, I firmly believe that he is better remaining in a good Moto3 team with familiar faces than moving to a lesser team in Moto2 – he will have another solid chance of winning the championship and moving up to Moto2 as a World Champion.

We also had confirmation this week that American superstar Cameron Beaubier would be joining the American Racing Moto2 team for 2021 and 2022. The 5 time MotoAmerica Superbike Champion will replace Joe Roberts in the team having been released from the second year of his current contract by Yamaha. Long-time race fans will remember that Beaubier raced in the Red Bull Rookies 2007 before being selected for the Red Bull MotoGP Academy project which gave him a season in the Spanish Championship. In 2009 Beaubier spent a season as teammate to Marc Marquez in the Red Bull KTM team in the 125cc World Championship. It will be interesting to see how he does – he is clearly a big talent but it isn’t always easy to make the jump from superbikes to the GP paddock.

Following on from the temperature issues last weekend, all of the morning sessions were moved back again to allow the sun to warm the track a little more before any action got underway and when that was coupled with the clocks changing this weekend, I honestly had no idea what time it was all day on Sunday!

FP1 on Friday morning saw Alex Marquez topping the session, with 3 Hondas finishing in the top 4 – Nakagami was in 2nd with Stefan Bradl in 4th! FP2 was strong for Honda again with Nakagami going fastest and Cal finishing in 3rd. At the other end of the field we saw 5 Ducatis in the bottom 5, with only Zarco breaking away from the group in 13th.

Combined times following Saturday’s FP3 session didn’t see the situation improve for Ducati – ALL SIX Ducati riders failed to go straight through to Q2, meaning they would all have to participate in Q1. The situation at Ducati this season seems to be a mess, and a miserable mess at that. Danilo Petrucci is one of the most smiley people in the paddock and it has been rare to see a smile on his face this season – I bet he can’t wait to end this season and jump on that KTM. If nothing else, I’m sure the atmosphere in the Tech3 garage will be less toxic!

Q1 got under way and all eyes (well a great deal of them anyway) were on the factory Ducati riders – would Danilo help his teammate this week? They didn’t go out on track together, but there was a point where it looked as though Jack Miller had been drafted in to help out, although he said after the session that there was no plan. They rolled out of pit lane together and it looked like Jack was all set to tow Dovi around. I had a little giggle to myself when I spotted Tito Rabat lurking behind them – I’d have been delighted if he had managed to hook onto the back of them and pip them for a fast time. As it was, he didn’t and Jack Miller messed up his lap and Dovi finished the session in 7th, meaning that he would be starting the race on Sunday from 17th on the grid. Not ideal for the only Ducati rider in a position to win the championship. One Ducati rider did make it through to Q2 though – Johann Zarco finished 2nd in the session and would join Pol Espargaro in Q2.

The final part of the Q2 session had a Moto3 kind of feel about it – with 5 minutes to go everyone was still in the pits, but they eventually came out for their final time attacks and it was Takaaki Nakagami who stormed the top of the times to take his first ever MotoGP pole position, and became the first Japanese rider to take pole since Makoto Tamada in 2004. There was some confusion at the end of the session as Zarco crashed, bringing out yellow flags while riders were on fast laps. Some lap times were cancelled before quickly being reinstated as it was determined that the flags were not out for long enough for the riders to see them.

Joining Taka on the front row would be Franky Morbidelli and Alex Rins, with Viñales, Zarco and Fabio Quartararo filling the second row. Championship leader Joan Mir would be back on the 4th row with rookies Alex Marquez and Iker Lecuona just ahead of him.

As the riders lined up on the grid for the race there were so many questions – could Nakagami convert his first pole into his first podium (or even his first win)? Would Alex Marquez bag another podium? Would we finally see a Honda rider win a race this season? Who would be leading the championship as we headed into a one week break before the final 3 races of the season? My head was buzzing!

The lights went out, and Taka took advantage of his pole position and grabbed the holeshot ahead of Franky Morbidelli and Alex Rins. There was a massive dust cloud at turn two as two riders hurtled through the gravel, and we barely had time to work out who those two riders were (Binder and Miller as it turns out) before dreams were shattered as Takaaki Nakagami slid out of the lead and into the gravel at turn 5. Morbidelli now found himself in the lead and he didn’t look back as he lead Rins, Zarco, Viñales and Mir who had made a cracking start and was already up to 5th before the end of the first lap.

By lap 5 Franky and Rins had pulled away slightly from the chasing pack of Zarco, Viñales and Mir, with Alex Marquez having made his way past the likes of Crutchlow and Quartararo now looking to tag onto the back of Mir. Within a lap Alex had caught them. Mir made a move on Viñales and Alex followed through a few corners later, as out front Franky began to pull away from Rins and Rins in turn increased the gap back to Zarco. Championship contenders Quartararo and Dovizioso were back in 7th and 12th respectively.

Soon Quartararo found himself being passed by Pol Espargaro and hounded by Miguel Oliveira as Joan Mir moved past Zarco for 3rd and immediately started to pull away. Alex Marquez, keen not to let Mir get away stalked Zarco to the end of the lap where he passed him through the final corner, only for Zarco to return the favour in the first turn. Alex was having none of it though and passed him back straight away, this time making it stick.

As we watched what was turning into quite the battle between Fabio and Miguel, we heard the dreaded sound of a motorbike scraping through the gravel trap. Alex Marquez had crashed out; ending his impressive run of finishing every race so far this season (Nakagami was in that boat too).

As Miguel managed to make a move stick on Fabio, Dovi had made his way up to 9th position only for Aleix Espargaro to run him wide and take 9th forcibly from him. A few corners later Dovi ran way wide and dropped back to 12th, just ahead of his teammate Petrucci and the Honda of Bradl as Iker Lecuona passed Crutchlow for 10th.

Back at the front, Franky had pulled away a little more from Rins as he continued to set the pace of this race. With 3 laps to go, Petrucci was all over Dovi with Stefan Bradl close behind. Pol Espargaro made his way past Zarco for 4th and the Petrucci did it, he passed Dovizioso. Aleix Espargaro pulled out with a technical issue as Franky stretched his lead out to 1.6 seconds.

Final lap time, and things were getting worse for Dovi – he was passed by Bradl. I mean no disrespect to Bradl – he is a talented rider – but he is a test rider and a TV commentator and Dovi should be able to beat him. It was Franky Morbidelli who completed a perfect race to cross the line first, ahead of Alex Rins and Joan Mir.

I love that Franky won this race – he was asked on Thursday whether he would help out Fabio on track as he bids for the title, and Franky simply replied that he wasn’t out of the race just yet. Way to prove a point Franky!

After the race Franky thanked his team who had stayed in the garage late on Saturday night working on the perfect setting for the race. He also said that once he saw clear air in front of him he decided to “give everything I’ve got on every lap” and that he “had so much fun!” He finished by adding “now we’re on.” Yes they are! Joan Mir said that 3rd place was like a victory as he was unable to go any faster than he did, with teammate Rins also saying that he simply didn’t have the pace to go with Franky.

3rd place was still enough to see Joan Mir increase his championship lead to 14 points over Fabio Quartararo, with Viñales 19 points behind Mir. Morbidelli’s race win sees him overtake Dovi for 4th in the championship, just 25 points behind Mir. If Mir continues his form, it would be hard to see anyone else take this championship – could we even see him win the championship without winning a race? That championship trophy isn’t his yet, but with a 14 point lead with only 3 races remaining, he is certainly in a good position.

My favourite thing this weekend was Alex Marquez telling the media to stop asking him questions about his brother! I understand that people want to know how Marc is and how his recovery is going, but surely those questions are for his team. Alex was his usual polite self about it, simply saying “I will not answer more questions about Marc” before going on to say that he has been on the podium now, so people should “forget a little” about Marc and “focus on me.” Good for him – regardless of whether he has been on the podium he is a MotoGP racer in his own right and it is disrespectful to treat him as his brother’s spokesman.

Following on from becoming Honda’s 100th different race winner last weekend, Jaume Masia took the Moto3 race win again this weekend to win Honda’s 800th race across all GP classes.

It has been surprisingly announced this week that Aprilia will replace Bradley Smith for the rest of the season with their other test rider (and newly crowned Italian Superbike Champion) Lorenzo Savadori. Seems a bit harsh to get rid of Bradley at this point of the season but what do I know?! I do look forward to seeing how Savadori goes in the final 3 rounds though.

Talking of Brits who were (in my opinion) treated harshly by Aprilia, Sam Lowes won the Moto2 race again this weekend – that’s 3 on the bounce – and now leads the championship by 7 points. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter because I will not be accused of jinxing him…

We have a weekend off this week before we face a double header in Valencia and the final round at Portimão. I think I’m more excited about Portimão than Valencia (I LOVE it there and cannot wait to see MotoGP bikes on the track), but I’m sure the two rounds at Valencia will give us plenty to talk about.

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