The VROOM Blog #SanMarinoGP – Bagnaia blasts to victory in Misano

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

After keeping Marc Marquez at bay to secure his maiden MotoGP win, Pecco Bagnaia headed home to Italy for the San Marino GP at Misano. Could he make it back-to-back wins with victory at home? Many people thought so – he is on a rich run of form at the moment, and had been leading one of the races here last season before a crash saw his hopes of a debut win end in the gravel trap.

In the run up to the Gran Premio di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini – or San Marino GP, because no race title needs that many words – Yamaha finally confirmed their line up for the remainder of the season. Franky Morbidelli steps up from the Petronas squad to re-join former team mate – and championship leader – Fabio Quartararo in the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team. Franky has signed to be a part of the team (and a Factory Yamaha rider) for the remainder of this season, and for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

I love that Franky has been given this ride – now I can stop complaining that last year’s runner up in the championship is on inferior machinery! Seriously though, he really deserves it and I can’t wait to see how he goes once he is back to full fitness following a 5 race (and 13 week) lay-off having had knee surgery back in June.

I was pleased to see that the Yamaha press release stated that Franky will be able to “use the remainder of the 2021 season to adapt to the new team surroundings and the 2021 Factory-spec YZR-M1, and gradually work up to 100% fitness”, as it would be harsh to expect him to jump on that bike and be fast straight away.

Franky’s old seat at Petronas has been like a revolving door this season, with Valentino Rossi having had 4 different team mates so far this season! Rossi’s 5th team mate this season is the returning Andrea Dovizioso who will take the seat for the rest of the season, and remain there for 2022 too. Dovi will finish this season on Franky’s former bikes, but will be given factory spec bikes and receive full factory support for 2022.

Much like Franky, Dovi will be using these final 5 races to get himself back up to speed before the 2022 season. My only disappointment regarding Dovi is that he missed the golden opportunity to have “Re-employed” on the back of his leathers this weekend!

The team that Dovi will race for next season will be slightly different, following the news earlier this season that the Sepang Racing Team will be splitting with title sponsor Petronas at the end of the 2021 season. It was announced this weekend that the team will be rebranded as RNF MotoGP racing, and has signed a 5-year deal to remain in MotoGP until at least 2026. Team Principal Razlan Razali will remain at the helm of the team, but strangely there has been no mention at all of Team Director Johann Stigefelt in all of the rebranding talk.

With the loss of their title sponsor, we also know that there will not be Petronas teams in Moto3 and Moto 2 next year. There will however be a brand-new British team, with Michael Laverty announcing this weekend that he will be launching the VisionTrack Honda Moto3 team from 2022 onwards. The team will aim to bring British rookies into the Moto3 class and give them opportunities that have until now been difficult to come by.

Michael already has the MLav VisionTrack Academy which fields riders in the British Mini-Bike championship, with some riders having made the step into the British Talent Cup this season, and he sees this new venture as an extension of the Academy – albeit much sooner than he had originally planned.

Impressively, the project has all come together in just 3 weeks with Michael essentially buying out the Petronas team and their equipment.

The first two riders to compete in the team will be Scott Ogden and Josh Whatley, both of whom are currently racing in the CEV Repsol Moto3 Junior World Championship. Ogden – a former British Talent Cup champion – has recently taken his first win in the championship, where he races with the Aspar team, and is also in his second season of the Red Bull Rookies Cup.

Whatley is currently 19th in the championship, with a best result of 9th so far this season. Whatley has been in the CEV paddock for 5 seasons now, having competed in both the Moto3 class and the European Talent Cup.

Michael will be Team Principal and has said that he will be looking to employ a team manager so that he can continue his duties with BT Sport. Talking about his new team, Michael said that “the path to the pinnacle of motorcycle racing is not an easy one for any rider, but for some time now it has become especially difficult for British youngsters to make it, without a home-grown team competing at the top level. Far too often young British riders have been overlooked because of a lack of sponsorship or financial support.”

It is fantastic that there will now be more of an opportunity for young British riders to make their way into the MotoGP paddock, and Michael has done a great thing in stepping up where no one else would – everyone is so quick to complain about lack of Brits in the paddock and how Spain and Italy have great development programmes to help their riders get to the top, but no one has actually done anything about it, so I wish Michael and his team every success with this project.

My only gripe is that the two riders selected are both already competing at ‘world’ level in the Junior World Championship and have been riding in Spain for a number of years – it would have been nice to have seen someone picked from the British Talent Cup if the goal is to help young Brits. If they’re racing in Spain then they must already have some form of the sponsorship or financial backing that Laverty says so many young brits are lacking. Perhaps he feels the jump from the British Talent Cup to Moto3 is too big a leap?

Anyway, along with the return of Franky and Dovi, this weekend also sees two test riders join the grid as wildcard entries – Michele Pirro (Ducati) and Stefan Bradl would both be racing this weekend ahead of a two-day test on Tuesday and Wednesday following the San Marino GP.

We saw Taka Nakagami reach 200 GP starts last time out, and at Misano this weekend Joan Mir reached 100 GP starts.

One thing I absolutely love about Misano is all of the special helmets for many of the Italian riders within the paddock. Franky Morbidelli, Pecco Bagnaia and Enea Bastianini were among those who revealed special editions this weekend, with Franky celebrating his promotion to the Factory team with a “proud to be blue” helmet. The highlight for many of course, is Valentino Rossi who traditionally reveals his just before FP3 on a Saturday morning. This year, he has gone with a huge pink bow design to celebrate the impending birth of his daughter, and hilariously he joked that this year’s helmet was simply the evolution of last year’s Viagra themed one!

Another Misano highlight is usually the unveiling of the SKY VR46 special livery, but honestly, this year’s was a little disappointing. This one tied in with the SKY WiFi service and was bright (I mean sunglasses bright) pink. I have nothing against a pink bike, but where the themes are usually seamless and beautiful – remember the ocean rescue one, or any of the tricolour ones? – this one just seemed like it was slapped on at the last minute. It just didn’t go.

Friday’s FP1 session was interrupted by heavy rain, meaning that the faster times were set in the beginning of the session, which was topped by Maverick Viñales. With FP2 also affected by rain, it was Viñales who ended day one on top of the times – it is worth noting that the two-day test that Maverick did on the Aprilia was here, but still, that’s an impressive start to his weekend.

FP3 on Saturday morning was delayed due to two red flags in the Moto3 session, and saw no less than 6 crashes with Rossi, Bradl, Oliveira, Marc Marquez, Petrucci and Lecuona all falling during the session. The session was topped by Pecco Bagnaia who would be leading the way into Q2 ahead of Fabio Quartararo, Miller and Mir. Marc Marquez, Bradl, Binder, Bastianini and Nakagami were on the list of riders who would have to contend with Q1.

It was Fabio Quartararo who set the pace in FP4, ahead of Rins, Pecco, Zarco, Mir and Enea Bastianini before we headed into the critical Q1 session.

Stefan Bradl spent most of the session leading Marc and Alex Marquez around, and after the first set of runs it was Bastianini and Franky who were in the top two slots, but the Honda tactic paid off for Marc with him able to finish the session in second, behind Enea Bastianini, and head through to Q2.

Q2 started under the threat of a very dark sky, but thankfully the rain held off! After the first runs, it was Fabio leading ahead of Pecco and Jorge Martin. With less than 4 minutes to go, Marc Marquez crashed at turn 9 before Aleix Espargaro crashed at turn 15.
Pecco Bagnaia set a new all time lap record to top the session ahead of team mate Miller and Fabio – who crashed with less than a minute to go in the session. There was disappointment for reigning champion Mir who received a ‘box’ call on his dash so pulled into the pits only to discover that the call was a mistake, potentially costing him a better lap time than the one that sees him 11th on the grid.

With the weather having been up and down all weekend, warm up on Sunday morning began with many riders doing one lap on wet tyres to ‘scrub’ them in just in case they were needed later on, and taking the opportunity to practice swapping bikes in case of a flag-to-flag race. The session was topped by Alex Rins ahead of Fabio, Pecco and Joan Mir.

There were spots of rain falling in the paddock 30 minutes before the race was due to start, but by the time the riders lined up on the grid it was dry.

Once again it was Pecco Bagnaia who shot off the line to grab the holeshot and lead the field into turn 1. He was followed by team mate Miller, Fabio Quartararo and Jorge Martin, although it wasn’t long before Martin lost out to both Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro.

As Pecco pulled away at the front, Jorge Martin made his way back through on Pol and was followed through by Aleix. Jorge then made a move on Fabio, only for Fabio to grab 3rd place right back from him.

By lap 3 Pecco had a lead of 1.3 seconds over Miller, while Jorge and Fabio continued to battle each other for 3rd place. Fabio regained the position and a few corners later Jorge Martin crashed out. He was able to re-join, but did later pull into the pits.

Enea Bastianini was a man on a mission – he made his way past both Rins and Pol Espargaro to take 6th place, and a lap later he had relegated Aleix too. By lap 6 he was up to 5th and swarming all over the back of Marc Marquez, passing him with ease, as further back Rins passed Aleix and Mir passed Pol for 6th and 8th respectively.

The next few laps saw Pecco working to increase his lead over Miller to 2.8 seconds, and on lap 14 Fabio made his move and took 2nd place from Miller. Iker Lecuona crashed out of the race on lap 15 at turn 4, before Enea Bastianini began a run of 3 fastest laps of the race which helped him to close the gap to Miller ahead of him.

Alex Rins crashed out of the race on lap 18, and a lap later Enea had caught and passed Miller for 3rd place! Fabio was beginning to close in on Pecco too – would he be able to stop the Italian taking back-to-back wins? As it turns out, no he wouldn’t. Pecco held his lead right until the end of the race, taking his second race win in as many races, with Fabio in 2nd place and Enea Bastianini taking his first MotoGP podium in 3rd.

Pecco took his sweet time to come back around to parc ferme, and who can blame him – he had just won his home GP! He took so long to come back that Fabio already had his helmet and gloves off and applauded his rival as he pulled his bike up next to his own.

Fabio was quick to praise Pecco post-race, telling Simon Crafar that it was a difficult race in which he did his job, but that Pecco had “made an amazing race”. Pecco said that he and the team were incredible and that he was very happy with the result.

First time podium finisher Enea Bastianini described getting his first MotoGP podium at home in Misano as magic, and has over the last two races – he was 6th last time out – closed the gap on Jorge Martin in the battle of the 2021 rookies. A few races ago, it looked almost certain that Martin would take the title, having scored a race win and a 3rd in Austria, but Enea’s current run of form means that there is now only 10 points between the pair heading into the final few races. It will certainly be interesting to see who comes out on top at the end of the season.

For the second race in a row, Fabio has lost points to Bagnaia but retains a lead in the championship of 48 points with just four races to go. Fabio is now also the most successful French rider in MotoGP with 19 podiums!

The next round takes place at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas at the beginning of October, but before that there is an important two-day test at Misano this week, with many teams shifting their focus to their 2022 machines. Johann Zarco will be present on Tuesday, but will be heading home to undergo arm-pump surgery scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Texas has long been a happy hunting ground for Marc Marquez who has 6 wins at the circuit, although it was Alex Rins who was victorious last time out – will Marc be able to reclaim his COTA crown this season? We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m sure we’ll be in for a great race!

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