The VROOM Blog #ThaiGP – Miguel Oliveira storms to victory in torrential Thailand Grand Prix

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

This weekend the MotoGP paddock arrived in Thailand for the first time since 2019 – much like Japan last weekend and Australia next time, Thailand was skipped in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid pandemic – and the weather forecast was grim. As it turned out, the weather forecast was wrong. Well, it was wrong for Friday and Saturday at least, with MotoGP completing all sessions in the dry until the race.

As I mentioned last time out, we had two stand-in riders this weekend. Tetsuta Nagashima would replace Taka Nakagami at LCR as Taka recovered following a second surgery on his injured fingers. When you hear the extent of the damage, it’s really surprising that he was able to ride at all in Japan. Danilo Petrucci returned to the MotoGP paddock this weekend having wrapped up 2nd place in the MotoAmerica championship last weekend. Petrux would be riding in place of Joan Mir as he continues his recovery following ankle damage sustained in Austria.

Following announcements during the week that MotoGP would be heading to India and Kazakhstan – yay, more sportswashing in Kazakhstan – the 2023 provisional calendar was announced over the weekend. The 2023 MotoGP season will consist of 21 rounds – that’s 42 races with the addition of the sprint races – and will begin at the end of March with the Portuguese GP in Portimão rather than the now usual Qatar opener due to work being carried out at the Lusail track.

The season will then see early visits to Argentina and America in April before returning for a run of European rounds. Jerez and Le Mans will take place in April and May before a 4 week break ahead of a triple-header of rounds in June as the paddock heads to Mugello, Sachsenring and Assen. The only race scheduled for July is the new Kazakhstan GP, due to take place at the Sokol International Racetrack, subject to homologation.

Following the trip to Kazakhstan, there is another 4 week break before the British GP at Silverstone at the beginning of August. Silverstone will be followed by the Red Bull Ring two weeks later. September is a busy month which will see the Catalan GP and Misano before the run of 7 fly-away events kick off with the new Indian GP towards the end of September. Like Kazakhstan, the Indian round is subject to homologation.

October will see the Japanese, Indonesian, Australian and Thai GPs before moving on to Malaysia and Qatar in November. The season will end as usual in Valencia, but at the end of November the event is later than we would usually see which could be interesting in terms of track temperatures and weather.

Back in Thailand, MotoGP FP1 got underway on a dry track following a wet session for Moto3 and a drying session for Moto2. Barely 5 minutes into the session Marc Marquez found the limit on his Honda and crashed at turn 3. Miguel Oliveira also had a crash early in the session – his was at turn 12.

Fabio Quartararo appeared to be having issues with track limits – he posted lap times that were in the top 5, but for the first part of the session the times kept dropping back down towards the bottom of the timesheets. With 10 minutes remaining on the clock – and rain forecast for the rest of the weekend – most riders headed out on softer tyres to try and set fast laps in case this ended up being the only session that counted for progression to Q2.

While Di Giannantonio, Martin, Quartararo and Marc Marquez all took turns at the top of the timesheets in the final few minutes, it was Marc who topped the session ahead of Fabio Quartararo, Jack Miller, Luca Marini and Alex Rins. Franky Morbidelli was having another stronger practice session, finishing in 7th place. Neither Aprilia rider had made it into the top 10 in FP1, with Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales sitting 16th and 17th respectively.

One thing that I thought was lovely this weekend was Alex Rins sitting in on Danilo Petrucci’s debrief after the session to give him hints and advice about riding the Suzuki.

In spite of the weather forecast, FP2 was also a dry session. There were crashes for Marco Bezzecchi, Cal Crutchlow and Fabio Di Giannantonio – all at turn 3 – throughout the session, and once again riders found it difficult to put fast laps in at the end of the session due to yellow flags. Crashes from Darryn Binder and Cal Crutchlow meant that many riders had lap times cancelled. Cal’s crash was a big one, and he cracked his ankle, but that didn’t keep him off the bike for the rest of the weekend!

The session was topped by Johann Zarco from Pecco Bagnaia, Jorge Martin, Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo.
On Saturday morning, Raul Fernandez sat out FP3 due to “severe stomach ache” but word from the Tech3 team was that they hoped he would be feeling well enough to ride in FP4 and qualifying, which he was. Maverick Viñales was showing his frustration at the lap times he was able to produce on board his Aprilia, waving his arms and thumping the tank throughout the session.

It wasn’t until the latter part of the session that we saw any improvements in combined lap times, and it was Fabio Quartararo who moved himself up to 3rd place, before Marco Bezzecchi jumped to 10th and bumped fellow VR46 Academy rider Franky Morbidelli out of the top 10.

With a minute to go in the session, Jack Miller went 2nd before promptly crashing and bringing out the yellow flags. The session was topped by Jorge Martin ahead of Miller and Zarco, with Pecco, Fabio, Brad Binder, Alex Rins, Enea Bastianini, Marco Bezzecchi and Luca Marini joining them in progressing directly to Q2.

Before FP4 got underway for MotoGP, home hero Somkiat Chantra took pole position in Moto2 becoming the first Thai rider ever to take pole position in any GP class!

As we saw Maverick Viñales once again wearing the shoulder cam, Sergi Sendra – head of global tech development at Dorna – explained to BT Sport’s Gavin Emmett that the next progression of on-board cameras would be helmet cameras. That certainly will be an interesting view!

Maverick was once again letting his frustration show in this session as he and Aleix were once again way down the timesheets. As the chequered flag fell on FP4, it was Johann Zarco who was fastest ahead of Jack Miller, Bezzecchi, Binder, Martin, Franky and Fabio.

Q1 was stacked again this week, with ‘big names’ that you would generally expect to progress to Q2 in Aleix, Marc and Maverick going head-to-head with riders who had been fast across the weekend so far – Franky, Cal and Miguel. After the first runs, it was Marc and Cal who were leading the charge, but by the end of the session it was Marc and Miguel who topped the times to head through to Q2.

With Aleix and Maverick 13th and 17th on the grid, this is the second time this season that there hasn’t been an Aprilia through to Q2. It wasn’t just Maverick showing his frustration with the situation as Aprilia struggled to adapt to the harder tyre brought by Michelin this weekend – Aleix walked straight out of the back of the garage at the end of the session.

Q2 featured 7 of the 8 Ducatis in the field, with Di Giannantonio the only Ducati not to have made it into Q2. With 2 minutes left on the clock Jack Miller was back in the pits due to an engine problem, as team mate Pecco Bagnaia made his way to the top of the times. Jorge Martin surely must have thought he had secured pole position when he set a new all-time lap record with 20 seconds left on the clock, but Marco Bezzecchi took the chequered flag with an even faster time to secure his first MotoGP pole position.

Bez’s pole is also the first pole for the VR46 team in the premier class, and now means that Luca Marini is the only Ducati rider not to have taken a pole position this season. Joining Bez on the front row would be Jorge and Pecco as Ducati once again locked out the front row. In fact, the top 9 featured 7 Ducatis with Fabio Quartararo and Marc Marquez the only two riders in the top 9 not on Ducati machinery.

Fabio headed up the second row in 4th ahead of Zarco and Enea, while Marc found himself on the third row between Miller and Marini, with Rins, Miguel and Binder rounding out the fourth row of the grid.

Warm up on Sunday morning saw many riders scrubbing in wet tyres in case of rain later on, as well as practicing bike swap procedures should that rain arrive mid-race. With 2 minutes left on the clock we saw Fabio pull into the pits to have his fuel topped up for a full tank practice start just as he had done in Japan last week.

The session was topped by Pecco from Marini and Zarco, and looked a bit more promising for the Aprilia team as Maverick and Aleix finished in 8th and 9th.

As the Moto2 riders were sitting on the grid, spots of rain quickly turned into a downpour which eventually saw the race red-flagged. There was an attempt to restart the race, but it was once again red-flagged – this time on the sighting lap – and a result was declared based on the original race finish but riders were only given half points due to the race not having reached ¾ distance. I hate half points – they make the table look messy!

Following on from the Moto2 stoppage, the MotoGP pit lane opening was delayed. It was then announced that when the pit lane did open for MotoGP, it would remain open for 10 minutes to allow the riders to do several sighting laps to check the conditions having had no wet track time all weekend. Riders would have to pass through the pit lane rather than complete full laps as the teams would be getting everything set up on the grid.

Pit lane eventually opened after a delay of around an hour, and most riders did take the opportunity to complete a couple of sighting laps on their way to the grid. The race distance was reduced by a lap due to the delay, and there was thunder rumbling as the riders formed up on the grid.

There was obvious concern from some riders about the conditions, with Aleix Espargaro talking to several riders on the grid – including Fabio and Marini – before finding Loris Capirossi to talk to him. The race was then declared wet – I realise this is a formality that has to take place, but no shit was it wet, the safety car had been aquaplaning 10 minutes earlier!

The riders set off on their warm up lap, and the spray looked horrendous as they made their way around the sodden circuit. It always amazes me that they manage to ride like that – the skill these guys have is incredible.

The lights went out and despite running way wide into turn 1, Marco Bezzecchi was leading ahead of Pecco, Jack, Jorge and Marc. Fabio Quartararo had plummeted to 17th place and Franky Morbidelli was the top Yamaha in 13th. Lap 2 saw contact between Brad Binder and Aleix Espargaro which later saw Aleix handed a long lap penalty. There was also a penalty for Marco Bezzecchi for running wide – and presumably gaining an advantage – at turn 1. Marco would have to drop one position, which meant he had to slow his pace a fair bit to allow Jack through to the lead.

Luca Marini crashed out of 5th place, but was able to remount to remain the only rider this season not to have recorded a DNF. On lap 5 Miguel Oliveira made his way through on Pecco for 3rd place, before a lap later Miguel passed Bez, and Pecco followed the Portuguese rider through, dumping Bez back to 4th. Bez was quickly back to 5th place thanks to Marc Marquez, while further back, Marc’s team mate Pol Espargaro passed Fabio Quartararo for 17th.

On lap 8 Miguel passed Jack for the lead, but Jack was having none of it and took the place back immediately. Jorge Martin further demoted Bezzecchi a few laps later, while Aleix’s long lap penalty dropped him to 14th from 10th. Enea Bastianini passed Bezzecchi for 8th as Franky Morbidelli passed Raul Fernandez for 10th – dare we dream of a top 10 finish for Franky?!

Remy Gardner crashed out of the race on lap 12, while the Aprilia duo were heading in opposite directions – Aleix lost out on 13th place as he was passed by Brad Binder, while Maverick took 11th place from Fernandez. By lap 14 Bezzecchi had dropped out of the points to 16th place, while Miguel finally made the move stick on Jack for the lead of the race.

Johann Zarco was a man on a mission, setting fastest laps of the race in 5th place and running 1.5 seconds faster than race leader Oliveira. Zarco was all over the back of Marc Marquez and passed him for 4th place on lap 21. On the penultimate lap, Zarco was swarming around behind Pecco, but by the final lap he had dropped back a little – probably not wise to attempt a move on Ducati’s golden boy unless you’re 100% certain it’s going to be clean…

Miguel Oliveira maintained his lead to take his second win of the season, ahead of Jack and Pecco. Zarco took 4th, with Marc, Enea, Maverick, Alex Marquez, Martin and Binder rounding out the top 10. Franky Morbidelli did drop out of the top 10, but remained top Yamaha in 13th as team mate Quartararo saw his championship lead cut down to just two points with a finishing position of 17th meaning he didn’t score any points.

Aleix Espargaro is now only 20 points behind Fabio too, and while it would be a longer shot, Enea and Jack are 39 and 40 points back on the Frenchman with 3 rounds and 75 points remaining. The post-race garage scenes made for interesting viewing – Ducati big wigs Davide Tardozzi, Paolo Ciabatti and Gigi Dall’Igna all made their way to the Pramac garage following the chequered flag, while Quartararo walked straight through his garage and out of the back door.

Pecco described his 3rd place finish as “like a win”, and thanked Jack for a motivational talk before the race. Miguel Oliveira admitted he was happy to take the win, even though it was another wet weather win, but as Jack pointed out – the bonus cheques are all the same regardless of wet or dry wins.

Maverick Viñales – after what was looking like a torrid weekend – brought his Aprilia home in 7th place, and I have to say I was very impressed with him. There was a time with Maverick that the frustration he was showing earlier in the weekend would have followed him into the race and made it difficult for him to grind out a result, but he seems to have been able to put the issues aside and work hard in the race. He also posted a message on his social media thanking his team for their hard work all weekend. It’s really nice to see Maverick doing well and – more importantly – smiling and seeming to enjoy his racing again after the mess that was the first half of last season.

Next up for MotoGP is a return to Australia following a weekend off. With the championship on a knife-edge, I’m sure the Australian GP will be an exciting one, and I can’t wait!

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