The VROOM Blog #SanMarinoGP – Martin spoils the Italian party with dominant performance in Misano
Hot on the heels of a dramatic weekend in Spain, MotoGP was back in action this weekend in Italy for the San Marino GP. It was a busy weekend, with both the MotoE and Red Bull Rookies championships reaching their conclusion at the final European round before the paddock heads overseas for a run of seven races ahead of a return to Europe for the season finale in Valencia.
Miraculously, not only was Pecco Bagnaia present at the Misano circuit following his crash last weekend, he was declared fit to race. His only injuries from the incident were a sore coccyx and a large haematoma from the knee to the foot on his right leg. Team mate Enea Bastianini didn’t fare so well in his crash and would be sitting out this weekend, as well as the upcoming races in India and Japan. Enea was present at the circuit this weekend though, and he wasn’t replaced by the team.
LCR Honda’s fill-in rider Iker Lecuona was back on World Superbike duty this weekend, which meant a call up for Suzuka 8-hour winner Takumi Takahashi as Alex Rins continues his recovery. As is common at Misano – particularly with the official test on Monday – there were wild card entries for this weekend. Michele Pirro was on board the Aruba.it Ducati, Stefan Bradl was in for HRC, and Dani Pedrosa was on board a KTM.
The VR46 team confirmed ahead of their home GP that Luca Marini will remain with them in 2024 – not surprising news as the team had been saying for a while that their goal was to keep Bezzecchi and Marini for next season, but it’s good to have it confirmed.
There has still been no confirmation from either Pramac or Gresini regarding the available seats in their teams, and the speculation just keeps going. Paddock rumour this weekend had Marc Marquez not only moving to Gresini to line up alongside his brother Alex, but he was going to be taking the Repsol, Red Bull, and Estrella Galicia sponsorship with him and buying the team. Marc fuelled the gossip further by posting a short video on social media with a caption saying that things were happening. I genuinely believe Marc is just trolling the media at this point – things may or may not be happening with other teams, but I think that post was just for fun on his part.
By the end of the weekend though, the story had changed. Emilio Pérez de Rozas – who is well connected with Marc and Honda – wrote in the Spanish press that Marc would in fact remain with Honda for 2024. He wrote that Marc wishes to show faith that Honda will improve as a way of repaying them for the faith they showed in him, both in signing him on a 4-year deal, and in sticking with him through his recent injuries.
Speaking to Gavin Emmett on Sunday afternoon, Marc did confirm that he needs facts and actions from Honda rather than more promises and excuses.
There is also talk in the paddock that it may be Jack Miller who is moved aside at KTM to make way for Pedro Acosta should he be jumped straight into the Factory team. I can see why they would want to put Pedro straight into the Factory team, but it makes you wonder why they signed Jack on a two-year deal – they must have known that Pedro would have been keen to move up to MotoGP when they signed Jack. I don’t understand KTM sometimes – they have an amazing roster of talent across the GP classes, and they put in so much effort with these riders to bring them through the classes, but their management of these riders once they hit MotoGP level often leaves a lot to be desired. In recent seasons they have become the manufacturer that gives you one season, and then you end up punted out of MotoGP, and looking for a ride in World Superbikes. You only have to glance at the World Superbike entry list this season to see several of the riders KTM have cast aside – Petrucci, Gardner, and Lecuona are the most recent 3.
Obviously, this is still only rumour at this point, but with the Ajo team confirming their Moto2 squad for 2024 will not include Pedro Acosta (or Augusto Fenandez who it had been suggested could be asked to step back to Moto2), it does make you wonder what is going to happen with KTM in MotoGP. They have 5 riders and only 4 seats with Dorna seemingly reluctant to allow them to snap up the two empty grid slots, so someone is going to end up very disappointed.
The first track action of the weekend for MotoGP was a 45-minute FP1 session, which saw Bagnaia walking to and from his bike very slowly, and the team were using the rear ride-height device to lower the bike for him to make getting off the bike easier. The session was topped by Michele Pirro ahead of Luca Marini and Jorge Martin. LCR’s Takumi Takahashi was almost 7 seconds off the time set by Pirro, so he would have some serious work to do to be within the 105% cut off for qualification to race.
The 60-minute Practice session on Friday afternoon decides who will progress directly through to Q2, but also gives riders a chance to put a long run in to assess things like tyre degradation for the race. Jack Miller crashed at turn 3 just as most riders were starting their time-attacks, while team mate Binder was on a fast lap but appeared to be held up by Miguel Oliveira who was slower than him. Binder still managed to jump to 3rd place.
With 9 minutes to go, Maverick Viñales set a new all-time lap record to go to the top of the times, before most riders pitted once more for fresh rubber and one final run of fast laps. Marc Marquez had decided in this session that the man to follow was former team mate Dani Pedrosa, and he chose right as Dani towed him to 3rd place. Aleix Espargaro crashed heavily in the final minute of the session, bringing out yellow flags and cancelling laps for other riders.
Aleix was said to be suffering from whiplash following the crash and would have to be reviewed by the medical team before FP2 on Saturday morning.
Marco Bezzecchi managed to time his final lap of the session to avoid the yellow flags, and he went faster than Viñales to set another lap record and top the session ahead of Viñales, Pedrosa and Martin. Joining them in heading directly to Q2 would be Marini, Marc Marquez, Bagnaia, Alex Marquez, Binder, and Raul Fernandez.
As is customary for Italian riders at Italian races, there were several special helmets unveiled ahead of FP2 on Saturday morning. My favourites came from Franky Morbidelli (because you know I’m a little bit biased there), and Marco Bezzecchi. Franky had brightly coloured feathers on his helmet, along with the words ALEGRIA, PAIXÃO, AMOR, which translate to Joy, Passion, Love – something that Franky said it is important to try and remember even when times are hard.
Bezzecchi had gone for a “Simply the Bez” design, with a picture of himself singing. I had thought it was based on the Tina Turner song, but when the VR46 Academy posted photos of the helmet on social media they used a Black Eyed Peas song of the same name.
Alongside the special helmets, the Gresini team once again ran a full livery in tribute to late team owner Fausto Gresini, and it was beautiful. Honestly, the largely white bike with flashes of Italian green and red is so much nicer than their usual blue and red – it’s a shame they don’t use the white one permanently.
Fabio Di Giannantonio quickly suffered the curse of the one-off livery as he crashed early in the session. Although it was a relatively small crash for Diggia, the bike looked to be badly damaged. Takumi Takahashi also crashed in the early stages of the session, which wasn’t going to help his chances of improving his lap time.
There were crashes in the session for Raul Fernandez and Luca Marini, but it was Jorge Martin who was fastest, ahead of Pirro and Marini.
Takumi Takahashi failed to set a lap time with the 105% threshold, meaning that he was unable to participate in the remainder of the weekend.
Once again, this weekend the Q1 session contained several riders who you might have expected to be directly into Q2, but the likes of Aleix Espargaro, Jack Miller and Johann Zarco would have to face the gauntlet of Q1.
Pol Espargaro crashed 4 minutes into the session, and after the first runs of laps it was Miguel Oliveira and Fabio Quartararo who held the top two spots. With 2 minutes remaining Bradl jumped to 2nd place and Pol crashed for the second time in the session – this time at turn 13. Fabio Quartararo was on a fast lap, but had to slow due to the yellow flags brought out for Pol’s crash.
Aleix Espargaro improved to top the times, with Oliveira pipping him for the top spot as the chequered flag came out. With Aleix and Oliveira progressing, we would be seeing all four Aprilia riders in Q2.
Q2 saw some very fast laps in the early part of the session, with Jorge Martin setting another lap record top the times as everyone pulled into the pits to switch to new tyres ahead of one final run. With 2 minutes left of the session, Martin went faster again to go 0.6 seconds clear of the chasing pack. Bezzecchi managed to close the gap to 0.4 seconds as he jumped to 2nd place.
Jorge Martin took his 10th MotoGP pole position and would be joined on the front row by Bezzecchi and Bagnaia, with Viñales, Pedrosa and Aleix on the second row. Rows 3 and 4 would be filled by Binder, Marini, Marc Marquez, Oliveira, Alex Marquez, and Raul Fernandez.
Before the Sprint could get underway, there was the matter of the MotoE championship to be decided. The MotoE class races before and after the Sprint on a Saturday this season, and while there were two races remaining this weekend, the championship could be decided in the first one. This year is the first year that MotoE is a World Championship, having previously been “only” a world cup.
I was slightly torn as to who I wanted to win the Championship – I really like Jordi Torres, but I also really liked the idea of the Pons team withdrawing from racing with one final Championship. As it was, Jordi jumped the start and was handed a double long lap penalty, ending his championship fight as Mattia Casadei went on to win the race, and the Championship to give the Pons team their fairytale ending.
Back to MotoGP, and Jorge Martin got a great start off the line to lead into turn 1. Bagnaia passed Bezzecchi for 2nd, while Dani Pedrosa was in 4th place. Franky Morbidelli was running in last place having had a problem engaging first gear on the grid.
Brad Binder was busy doing Brad Binder things like overtaking Marc Marquez and then passing Marini and Aleix in one move to move up to 6th place. Jorge Martin was already almost a second ahead of Bagnaia, and then Bagnaia ran wide, allowing Bezzecchi to move into 2nd place and begin closing the gap to Martin.
There were battles taking place further down the field as Binder and Viñales battled for 5th while Marc and Aleix battled for 8th place. Race direction were handing out track limit warnings left, right and centre as riders flirted with the green paint.
On lap 8 of 13, Dani Pedrosa was lapping faster than Bagnaia ahead of him – could we see Pedrosa on the podium? Joan Mir was handed a double long lap penalty for “failing to comply” with the first one. On the final lap of the race, Pedrosa looked like he was going to pass Bagnaia, but he couldn’t find a way through on the Ducati.
Jorge Martin won the Sprint ahead of Bezzecchi and Bagnaia, with Dani Pedrosa being welcomed back to his KTM garage like a hero having finished in 4th place. Rounding out the top 9 and scoring points were Binder, Viñales, Marini, Aleix, and Alex Marquez.
There were several post-race penalties for riders who had either failed to complete their long lap penalties, or had touched the green on the final lap. Mir, Morbidelli, Pol, Zarco, and Bradl all received time penalties.
Jorge Martin said after the race that he was confident that he would have more pace on Sunday when he would be using the medium tyre, and he also sent his condolences to the family of Mike Trimby, whose death had been announced late on Friday evening.
Mike was the founder and CEO of IRTA, and had spent his final day working in the MotoGP paddock attending meetings and having dinner with his team. Many of the bikes in the paddock carried black ribbon stickers in Mike’s memory for the remainder of the weekend. Herve Poncharal – who alongside his role at Tech3 is also the President of IRTA – gave a lovely tribute to Trimby, saying that he had been full of life and fighting for the decisions he believed in at the GP Commission meeting on Friday, and that MotoGP was his life. Herve said that although there is rarely anything positive about death, it did seem fitting that Mike’s life ended while he was doing what he loved.
Trimby is often credited as being the man that has made MotoGP what it is today – he fought for rider safety and for respect for the riders from promoters and circuits at a time when they had very little. He founded the International Road Racing Teams Association back in 1986, and gave a much-needed voice to teams and riders.
Herve – and many others who have spoken of Mike since his passing – said that he would have hated any fuss, and so it seemed appropriate that the tribute to him took place on Saturday evening, rather than on the grid before the race on Sunday when such things are often held. The whole paddock turned out on the start / finish straight to remember Mike with a minute of silence which was followed by a round of applause. I would like to join the wider racing community in sending my thanks to Mike for all he has done for our sport, and my condolences to his wife Irene, his family, friends, and team.
Warm up on Sunday morning saw Bagnaia rolling out of pit lane on his Ducati with a new yellow livery. The yellow was also run by Alvaro Bautista and Michael Ruben Rinaldi at the Misano round of World Superbikes earlier in the year, and is a nod to the history of Ducati, who made sport bikes in the 70s and 90s that were often yellow.
Pol Espargaro had another crash during the warm up session, which was topped by Bagnaia from Bezzecchi and Martin.
As the riders lined up on the grid they were treated to the San Marino and Italian national anthems as well as a spectacular air show overhead. Jorge Martin once again was the race leader, while Bagnaia passed Bezzecchi for 2nd place into turn 1. Dani Pedrosa a massive moment in turn 1, but somehow stayed aboard his KTM in 4th place.
Jorge started to pull away at the front as Binder made his way into 4th ahead of Pedrosa. On lap 6 Bezzecchi passed Bagnaia for 2nd only to run wide and give the place straight back to Bagnaia. Brad Binder crashed out of 4th on lap 8, he was able to remount, but he was at the back of the pack. Lap 10 saw Jack Miller and Michele Pirro crash out of the race – Fabio Di Giannantonio was also caught up in the incident, but managed to keep his Ducati upright and continue with the race.
Joan Mir crashed out of the race on lap 11, before Pol Espargaro suffered his 5th crash of the weekend as he crashed out of the race at turn 1 on lap 16. Out front Jorge Martin was given a track limits warning as he continued to extend his lead – he was now 1.1 seconds ahead of the chasing Bagnaia and Bezzecchi. Lap 19 saw Bezzecchi pass Bagnaia for 2nd place, and just like in the Sprint, Bagnaia now had Pedrosa closing in on him.
By the last lap of the race, Pedrosa was on the back of Bagnaia but he was unable to pass the Italian. Jorge Martin took the win, followed by Bezzecchi, Bagnaia, Pedrosa and Viñales. Jorge was greeted by chants of “Martinator” on his arrival in parc ferme, while Bagnaia took a moment to sit on his bike before being assisted as he slowly lifted his right leg off the bike.
Jorge Martin said post-race that winning in Italy in front of the Italian guys was a big “hit on the table.” Both Bezzecchi and Bagnaia confirmed in their post-race interviews that they would sit out the test on Monday in order to rest their injuries – Bezzecchi is still carrying a thumb injury from the first turn crash in Barcelona.
Ducati would be a few riders down for the test. In addition to Bezzecchi, Bastianini and Bagnaia all sitting out, Pirro had picked up an ankle injury in this race, Di Giannantonio had pain in his shoulder from his crash on Saturday, and while he would be on track, it was highly unlikely that they would be using Zarco to test any of the 2024 bikes and parts.
The Misano test took place on Monday, with lots of focus on 2024. There was lots of focus too on Marc Marquez and Fabio Quartararo – the results of this test could be crucial for their futures. While there has been a lot of talk of Marc jumping ship, there have also been quiet rumblings that Quartararo may be considering a similar move should he not see significant improvements from Yamaha.
There were contrasting reports coming out of the Yamaha camp, with team boss Massimo Meregalli saying that the test had been quite positive, while Fabio Quartararo was disappointed, saying that he had expected much better.
Over at Honda, Marc explained that while the new bike did feel different to the current one, many of the problems remained the same, but that he was pleased to see some new faces in the garage as new engineers is one of the things he has been asking for.
Elsewhere in the test, there were various items including chassis and aero being tried by the other manufacturers, and it was Luca Marini who was fastest ahead of Viñales and Binder. Although we know of course not to read too much into the actual lap times set when riders are trying so many new things.
Next up for MotoGP after a weekend off is a trip to India. We head there with Bagnaia’s lead in the championship down to 36 points, with Martin in 2nd place and Bezzecchi a further 29 points back in 3rd. The Indian GP will be an interesting one – no-one on the grid has raced there before so everyone will be starting from scratch, and we may find ourselves with some different names on the podium. Or we might not. I’m looking forward to finding out who will come out on top though!