The VROOM Blog, #SanMarinoGP – Bagnaia sails to 4 in a row as Dovi bids farewell

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

Last time the MotoGP paddock was in Misano, we saw Fabio Quartararo seal the 2021 Championship, as a great of the sport raced his final race on home soil. While the championship battle still rages on for 2022, we did once again see the final home race – in fact, the final race – for a great Italian as Andrea Dovizioso enjoyed his ‘last dance’ as a MotoGP rider.

This weekend saw Andrea Dovizioso line up on the grid for the 346th and final time in GP racing. Dovi is the rider with the second most starts in GP racing, behind only Valentino Rossi who had 432 GP starts, and is also second to Valentino in terms of premier class starts, with 248 to Valentino’s 372.

Dovi was the 125cc World Champion in 2004, and was twice runner-up to Jorge Lorenzo in the 250cc championship before making his move to the premier class with Honda in 2008. Finishing 5th in his first season with the Scot Honda team earned Dovi a promotion to the Repsol Honda team where he remained for 3 seasons before a year on the Tech3 Yamaha.

Following his stint with Tech3, Dovi moved to Ducati where he would spend 8 years alongside the likes of Nicky Hayden, Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo and Danilo Petrucci. During his time at Ducati, Dovi finished runner-up in the Championship for 3 consecutive years (2017 – 2019) to Marc Marquez.

Following an unhappy season in 2020 with Ducati (one of my favourite Dovi moments will always be the “Unemployed” patch on his leathers), Dovi announced he would be taking a sabbatical from the sport only to return mid-season last year to replace Franky Morbidelli in the Petronas SRT (now WithU RNF) as he moved up to the Factory team. Dovi had signed to remain with the team for this season, but announced after the summer break that Misano would be his final race, and honestly – who can blame him?!

Marc Marquez was given the all-clear by his medical team to increase his rehab / training and before the Misano weekend got started, Honda released video of Marc on board a CBR600RR. On Friday there was a second test aboard the 600 and news that Marc was heading to Misano to join the team for the weekend with the intention of riding in the post-race test on Tuesday and Wednesday.

There was a flurry of rider signing announcements between Austria and Misano as some of the big pieces of the 2023 puzzle fell into place. Enea Bastianini was announced as having won the battle for the seat alongside Pecco Bagnaia in the Factory Ducati team, and an hour or so later Pramac Ducati announced that they will be keeping Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco for next season.

Ducati have said that both Enea and Jorge will get exactly the same equipment at exactly the same time, so really the only difference will be the colours. And their salaries, I’d imagine…

Repsol Honda confirmed the signing of 2020 World Champion Joan Mir, before RNF announced that their riders for next season (when they switch to Aprilia) will be Miguel Oliveira and Raul Fernandez.

While it was speculated last time out that Remy Gardner would be out of the premier class next season, the man himself confirmed it this weekend, telling the media on Thursday that he has lost his ride at KTM and that they didn’t give much reason other than him being “unprofessional”.

If we thought the situation with Raul and KTM was messy (he was apparently rushed to MotoGP to stop him signing with another factory, and has apparently had to pay to leave them for next year), then this situation with Remy is something else.

KTM boss Pit Beirer rubbished claims that Remy had been called unprofessional, but did then talk about how Remy had been publicly critical of the KTM project, and didn’t seem to believe in the project going forward. There was also talk that the problems between Remy and KTM were being caused by his manager, Paco Sanchez, and Remy’s own father – 1987 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner – has been very outspoken on social media about Paco’s attitude and the damage he feels it is doing to Remy’s career.

Remy then posted on his own social media that he was “very sorry for the words of Wayne Gardner against Paco”, and that Paco isn’t responsible for his KTM exit. He went on to say that together they will find a project to continue enjoying the sport.

Quite where Remy will end up is unknown at the moment – he seemingly has options back in Moto2, but he may also consider a move to World Superbikes. Wherever he ends up, and whatever the reasons for not remaining with KTM, it is a real shame that the reigning Moto2 World Champion hasn’t even had a full season to prove himself before losing his ride.

Following his awful looking high-side at the Austrian GP, Joan Mir was replaced this weekend by Kazuki Watanabe as he recovers from an ankle injury. Watanabe is a member of the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, where he is the reserve rider, but recently scored a podium with the team in the Suzuka 8-hour event as he stepped in for Sylvain Guintoli who was injured at the event. Watanabe also races in the All-Japan Road Race series for Yukio Kagayama’s Suzuki team, where he is currently 3rd in the standings. I liked that the Suzuki press release made it sound more like this ride was a reward / thank you for Watanabe rather than putting pressure on him to get a result.

In addition to Watanabe, we would be seeing Michele Pirro once again wild-carding for Ducati with the livery, which is confusing because it looks like a MotoGP bike, but it’s dressed like a superbike!

This weekend saw the final round of the MotoE World Cup – if you’ve never watched a MotoE race, you really should, once you get over the noise (or lack thereof), the racing is excellent – and Domi Aegerter was looking to make amends following the loss of the title last season due to a penalty for a last lap incident with eventual champion Jordi Torres. Domi was 17.5 points ahead of Eric Granado – the only rival who could out-score him – heading into the weekend, and it was a two-race weekend meaning that there were still 50 points on the table.

As it turned out, Aegerter wouldn’t need two races to secure the title. Granado crashed on lap 4, and although he re-mounted, he was outside of the points meaning all Aegerter had to do was stay in the top 8 to secure the title. The Swiss rider crossed the line in 2nd place behind Mattia Casadei, and with Granado in 17th, Domi was crowned the World Cup winner.

We also saw the JuniorGP World Championship decided as José Antonio Rueda finished the race in 2nd place to secure the crown with 2 rounds remaining!

Back to MotoGP, and track action got underway with FP1 on Friday morning, and it was wild card Pirro who was setting the pace early on. To be fair to the others, Pirro does do a lot of testing around this track, so you would expect him to be up to speed a little faster than everyone else.

The session was topped by Fabio Quartararo from Jack Miller and Michele Pirro. There was an incident towards the end of the session where Alex Marquez had to take avoiding action as Pecco Bagnaia was riding very slowly on the racing line. The incident was on screen after the chequered flag, so my first thought was that Alex was going way too fast for a slowing down lap, but it turns out that the incident had happened before the chequered flag so it was Pecco who was in the wrong.

The Ducati rider was issued with a 3-place grid penalty which he accepted, and he explained that he thought he had taken the flag so he had slowed down.

FP2 looked like it may be a crucial session as there was rain forecast for Saturday that might impact the FP3 session, so everyone would be keen to set their best lap times just in case. Fabio Quartararo and Franky Morbidelli headed out together as we have seen them do over the last few rounds in the early parts of sessions. There were crashes for Zarco, Pecco and Rins in the first half of the session, and Alex Rins looked like he might be about to start a fight with a marshal in the gravel.

As it looked on screen, Alex crashed and then started running back towards the track (possibly to cross the track to get back to the pits) so the marshal grabbed his arm and pulled him back. Alex explained later that the reason he was angry was because the marshal grabbed him so hard that his airbag went off, but surely an airbag going off in the gravel is better than being allowed to try and run across a live track?! Anyway, Alex went and apologised to the marshal later on.

The final 5 minutes of the session saw riders heading out for a time-attack, and it looked like it was going to be a fight between future team mates Pecco and Enea Bastianini for the top spot. In the end, it was Enea who set the fastest time, ahead of Pecco, Jack Miller, Zarco, Quartararo and Maverick Viñales. I was off out to do a rain dance for Saturday morning because Franky Morbidelli was holding 10th place and I really wanted to see him straight through to Q2!

FP3 is traditionally when Valentino Rossi would unveil his special helmet for his home GP, and there were plenty of Italians on hand to continue the tradition. Andrea Dovizioso revealed a lovely helmet that integrated several of his previous helmet designs, including some from back when he ran with the #34.

There were others from Bezzecchi, Di Giannantonio and Enea Bastianini, but it was Pecco Bagnaia whose helmet choice left a lot to be desired. Pecco had gone for a tribute to ‘NBA star’ Dennis Rodman. While there is no denying Rodman’s talent on the basketball court, his behaviour off the court is not that of a role model – or a decent human being, if I’m being completely honest.

I cannot believe that there was no one in Pecco’s circle who in the run up to this event to take him aside and have a word about what wearing a tribute to such a man might mean, and how it may be viewed. Rodman has been charged with domestic violence offences, spousal battery, causing a hit and run, numerous drink-driving offences, and has settled out of court following several alleged sexual assaults.

Mat Oxley raised the issue during the qualifying press conference on Saturday afternoon, and he was quickly interrupted by Pecco before he could finish his question. Pecco said that he chose the helmet design for Rodman’s sporting figure, not his life. Mat continued with his question anyway, putting the spousal battery charges, sexual assault settlements and Rodman’s friendship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to Pecco, and suggested that he thought Pecco “might have put some thought into the fact that he has this immense negative side to his humanity before promoting him to younger people.”

Honestly, hats off to Mat for that because someone needed to ask the question! Pecco doubled down on his statement that he was celebrating Rodman’s sporting career rather than his personal life, and even went on to say “I don’t want to put me beside him in terms of what he (did) outside of the sport.” Why wear the helmet then?!

I have to say that I have lost a great deal of respect for Pecco this season – there was the drink-driving incident over the summer break, and now this. I just don’t understand how you can think it’s acceptable to celebrate a person like Rodman. I don’t care how good he was at basketball; he is a terrible human being who would likely be in jail if he wasn’t rich.

I know there are people out there who will argue – like Pecco – that a person’s professional achievements can be separated from their private lives, but for me that’s not the case. I don’t care that he is in the NBA Hall of Fame or that he is a 5-time NBA Champion, he is clearly a man who is a danger to other people and I cannot in good conscience celebrate that. I even saw someone on Twitter use the argument “oh does that mean that you don’t listen to R Kelly anymore?”, and yeah, that does mean that I don’t listen to R Kelly anymore, even if he had a couple of decent songs.

In spite of the question being raised, Pecco still went ahead with wearing the helmet on Sunday, which was disappointing to say the least.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, we can get back to FP3! As Marc Marquez made his way into the pit box – stopping outside to sign some autographs – Yamaha duo Fabio and Franky were heading out on track for a couple of laps together. Remy Gardner had a crash in the early part of the session but was able to remount his KTM.

With 13 minutes left, the rain flags appeared as there was light rain falling. The rain didn’t seem to make too much difference to the riders as they were still improving on their lap times. Once again with 5 minutes to go most riders were heading out for a final chance at a fast lap, and there were crashes for Pol Espargaro, Miguel Oliveira and Taka Nakagami in the final few minutes.

As the chequered flag came out, Franky was sitting in 10th, but Jorge Martin bumped him out of the top 10 and into Q1 with a last-gasp lap. Then Marco Bezzecchi had his best lap time cancelled which meant that he lost his top 10 place and Franky was reinstated – Franky was through to Q2 for the first time since the 2nd round of season!! I can’t believe that I’m getting so excited about that, but it’s so nice to see the rider who was 2nd in the world only two seasons ago starting to show some improvement on the Yamaha.

So, the top 10 – and the riders heading straight through to Q2 – were Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Enea Bastianini, Maverick Viñales, Fabio Quartararo, Alex Rins, Jorge Martin, Johann Zarco, Aleix Espargaro and Franky Morbidelli.

As FP4 kicked off, there was light rain falling but everyone still headed out on slick tyres. The session was topped by Enea Bastianini from Maverick, Aleix, Fabio, Pecco and Franky.

Q1 saw an early crash for Alex Marquez, and after the first runs it was Marco Bezzecchi and Jorge Martin who held the coveted top two spots. Just as riders were heading back out for their final runs, rain flags were being waved, and by the end of the session the rain definitely looked heavier than it had all day. It was VR46 duo Bezzecchi and Marini who secured passage to Q2 at their home GP.

In the short break between Q1 and Q2, there was much activity as teams and riders tried to get an idea of what the track conditions were like – Dovi stopped by the Factory Yamaha garage to update Fabio, while Davide Tardozzi made his way to the VR46 garage to speak to Bez before heading back to relay the information to Pecco.

The session started and all but one rider headed out on wet tyres. Miguel Oliveira was the only rider to head out on slicks, and he may have made the right choice as very quickly others were receiving dash messages from their teams to come in and change bikes!

This session was different to the usual Q2 format, as having come out on the wrong tyres, most riders opted to stay out for one longer run, and with 9 minutes remaining it was Miguel Oliveira who held provisional pole. A few minutes later, there were red sectors up and down the timing screen as everyone got used to the conditions. Miller, Bez, Enea, Pecco and Zarco all held provisional pole over the final few minutes, but it was Jack Miller who set the fastest time of the session with just 40 seconds to go.

Jack would’ve been joined on the front row by Pecco and Enea, but with Pecco’s grid penalty bumping him back to 5th, it would be Enea and Bez who would make up the all-Ducati front row. Row two would be headed by Viñales, and he would be joined by Pecco and Zarco, while Marini, Quartararo and Aleix would be on row 3. The top 12 was rounded out by Miguel, Franky and Alex Rins.

Warm up on Sunday morning saw the first appearance of the VR46 special home livery which had been unveiled at an event at Rossi’s ranch on Thursday evening. It was bright yellow and blue, with some orange and although it wasn’t the nicest livery they’ve ever done, anything is better than the standard one they are running this season – that’s right, it didn’t grow on me as I thought it might!

The winners of the special home livery were undoubtedly the Gresini team. They ran a tribute to late team boss Fausto Gresini which was a take on the livery of his 125cc championship winning Garelli. The bikes looked good on their own, but once the riders appeared in their matching leathers, the whole thing looked beautiful! The team had rolled the livery out for the Moto2 and MotoE races too.

Anyway, warm up was topped by Gresini rider Bastianini, ahead of Pecco, Luca Marini, Fabio and Maverick.

There was a lovely touch from the Suzuki team who had put big “Grazie Dovi” stickers on their tanks ahead of Dovi’s final race, the Repsol Honda team also had “Grazie Dovi” stickers on the front of their machines.

As the race got underway, it was Jack Miller who took advantage of his pole position to lead into the first corner ahead of Enea and Pecco. There was a huge crash at turn one as Zarco, Pol Espargaro and Michele Pirro saw their races end before they had begun. From the replay it looked as though Brad Binder had hit Zarco side-on and then Zarco wiped out Pol and Pirro. Thankfully, although a bit bruised, none of them sustained any injuries.

The incident was placed under investigation, but no further action was taken.

On lap two, Jack Miller crashed, gifting the race lead to Bastianini before Marco Bezzecchi crashed out of 4th place at turn 10. A lap later, it was Pecco who led the race having made his way through on Enea, before Maverick Viñales demoted Enea to 3rd with a lunge.

Fabio Di Giannantonio and Franky Morbidelli crashed at turn 4 – Franky said post-race that Diggia had crashed in front of him and he had nowhere to go – and while Diggia was able to remount, it spelled the end of Franky’s race, which was a shame after a much more positive weekend for the Italian.

Back out front, it was Pecco leading from Maverick, Enea, Luca Marini, Aleix Espargaro and Fabio Quartararo. On lap 6, Aleix Espargaro ran the tiniest bit wide, but it was enough for championship leader Quartararo to pounce on and take 5th for himself.

There were track limits warnings popping up everywhere – Gardner, Marquez, Viñales, Martin, Watanabe, Miguel and Quartararo all received warnings within a couple of laps, and there were many more later in the race too.

On lap 16 Enea ran wide and Luca Marini took advantage to take 3rd place, but it didn’t last long as the Gresini rider snatched the place back. Lap 20 saw Enea make his way through on Maverick for 2nd place.

Pecco and Enea started to pull away from Maverick, and on the final lap of the race Enea was all over the back of his future team mate – would he make a move? I know Ducati are saying there are no team orders to help Pecco in the championship battle, but I’d imagine wiping Pecco out on the final lap of the race would be met with some seriously stony faces in the garage!

Enea had a massive moment on the brakes which almost saw him crash into the back of Pecco’s Ducati, but luckily, he missed and the pair stayed on! They raced past Watanabe – who did what every back marker should do and moved well out of the way, only to get penalised for exceeding track limits on the final lap! – and they were almost side-by-side across the line as Pecco took the win.

Maverick Viñales finished in 3rd place to round out the podium, with Luca Marini – the only VR46 rider across MotoGP and Moto2 not to have crashed out with the special livery – in 4th. Fabio Quartararo and Aleix Espargaro were in 5th and 6th, with Rins, Binder, Martin and Marquez completing the top 10.

Dovi finished his final GP in 12th place, just ahead of Tech3 rookie Raul Fernandez who had benefited from having Guy Coulon in his corner this weekend.

Dovi was greeted by a crowd with his flags on his cool down lap, and he took off and signed his gloves and knee sliders before lobbing them into the crowd.

Pecco’s win makes him the first Ducati rider to take 4 consecutive wins, while Maverick Viñales becomes only the 3rd rider to have scored 3 podiums with 3 different manufacturers in MotoGP – he has 3 with Aprilia, 4 with Suzuki and 24 with Yamaha. Valentino Rossi had 142 with Yamaha, 31 with Honda and 3 with Ducati, while Andrea Dovizioso is the only rider to have scored 4 or more podiums with 3 bikes, with 40 at Ducati, 16 with Honda and 6 with Yamaha.

On Tuesday and Wednesday following the race there was an official test, and the news getting the most coverage was the return of Marc Marquez who completed 100 laps across the two days. The Spaniard didn’t take to the track on Tuesday afternoon to allow some rest before Wednesday, and has said that although the arm feels much better, he is unsure if he will race in Aragon.

HRC brought a Kalex swingarm to the test – a big step for them as they usually manufacture their swingarm in-house – and Stefan Bradl tried it out on Tuesday before Marc tried it on Wednesday. Marc was – in spite of his lack of bike fitness – the top Honda in 13th on combined times.

Fabio Quartararo finished the test at the top of the time sheets having spent time using the 2023 engine. While there was a lot of focus on development for next season, Yamaha did work on a new chassis and some new aero, and Massimo Meregalli confirmed that the new chassis may even be available at Aragon. Fabio’s team mate Franky Morbidelli finished the test in 12th.

Suzuki wrapped things up early – there wasn’t a great deal for them to test given that they won’t be in the paddock next season – and we didn’t see them on track on Wednesday. We did see recently crowned MotoE champ Domi Aegerter on Joan Mir’s bike on Tuesday – the team said it would be useful to have another rider’s feedback on their machine, but there is also speculation that they were using it as a chance to see how Domi performed should Joan not be fit for Aragon.

There didn’t seem to be a huge amount going on at Ducati in terms of development, although there was some chassis and aero work going on with Bagnaia and Bastianini.

Over at Aprilia, both Aleix and Maverick finished in the top 5 despite a crash that saw Aleix break his little finger. Much like Yamaha, they were testing a new chassis that may be available for Aragon.

Finally, KTM tested 2023 parts with Brad Binder and Dani Pedrosa doing most of the work on the new parts, presumably because they don’t want Miguel testing what he won’t be riding next year!

Oh, there was also news announced this week about a deal to see MotoGP race in Saudi Arabia, but I feel there’s been enough ranting from me this week, so I’ll cover that next time!

Next up is Aragon before we head off on the fly-aways, and all eyes will be on the championship battle as Fabio admitted this week that if he could remove any of the remaining rounds from the calendar it would be this one, while Pecco had that stunning race to victory against Marc Marquez last time out!

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