Aragon II with Boris
Wasn’t Round 12 a marvellous tapas spread of triumph and tears?
It was heartbreaking to see Nakagami’s despair, and uplifting to behold Morbidelli’s joy.
Don’t let anyone ever tell you MotoGP doesn’t visit the deepest troughs of human misery or scale the highest peaks of man’s achievements in just 40-odd minutes.
The second race at Aragon took place in slightly warmer conditions, and the race schedule was re-jigged to get the premier class out on the track after Moto3 and before Moto2.
Alberto Puig, still totally close-mouthed about the return of the world champion – and there is now speculation Marc Marquez is facing a third operation despite a slew of Instagram images showing him conscientiously lifting weights – still managed to play the crazy “If” game with trackside reporter Simon Crafar when asked about Honda’s seeming return to some kind of form in the absence of the King.
“If Marc didn’t crash,” Puig opined about the accident which scuttled Marc’s 2020 season, “he would have won the race.”
Yeah, well he did crash, and he didn’t win, and just because his brother has shown some dash in the last two races doesn’t mean your bikes are suddenly sweet-riding revelations. Just look what happened this time around.
The Practices were notable only because we are at the pointy end of the season and all things are pointing to a Mir versus Quartararo showdown at the last round in Portimao.
This explains why Fabulous spent a lot of his time following Mir around the track. He followed Rins too, but he clearly sees Mir’s ruthless consistency as a real threat to his own “One-lap scorcher and race-day fluff-fest” approach to the title.
But the shining star in the preliminaries was Taka Nakagami. Now confirmed in his LCR seat for the coming two years, Taka has shown he’s a solid improver each time we have a back-to-back affair at the same racetrack.
He was indomitable in Free Practice and in Qualifying. His race-pace was scary good, and all the signs pointed to an almost certain podium if not an outright victory for the much-liked Japanese rider.
All of the Hondas looked to be somewhat in the hunt. Even Cal and his creepy leaking arm was showing a turn of pace, while young Marquez was all swaggering confidence after his two consecutive podiums.
Aprilia was being Aprilia, ie. Aleix Espargaro will produce a fast lap in Q1, annoy someone on a Ducati, qualify indifferently, and then hope his bike doesn’t catch fire and that Smith will maybe crash before he does so the disappointment is duly shared around.
In stark contrast, the Ducati armada appeared to have found an even deeper hole to chuck its championship hopes into. Former race-winner Bagnaia might as well have been riding a Moto2 machine for all the impact his lap-times were having. It was not much better for Dovi and Petrucci, both of whom languished at the back of the field along with perennial grid-filler Rabat. Only the feral Frenchman Zarco and his 2019 Ducati looked to be trying, much like our own seemingly cursed Jack Miller.
It was warmer, as I pointed out, and this seemed to nudge the KTMs up the grid a little. Pol was even sporting some bizarre nasal-passage expander complete with wires looping into his nose, so that might have helped as well.
But the Bologna Bullets just weren’t co-operating unless Miller or Zarco were riding them, and there was a lot of sulking in the red pits.
The Yamahas look to be…um, alright, I guess. Vinales, Morbidelli and Fabulous were all solid in Practice and Qualifying.
It all seemed a little more tense – which is to be expected at this stage of this entirely unpredictable championship.
They lined up on Sunday, and it was all eyes on Taka. He was on pole, the first Japanese rider to do so in 16 years, and almost radiant in his lolly-themed leathers.
Beside him hunched the consistently fast Morbidelli, and last week’s winner, Rins, finished up the front row.
One second separated first to 19th. Taka had secured pole with a 1’46.88, while Petrucci sat in third last with a 1’47.88. It was as tight as it gets.
But Taka was the man! Everyone said so. Everyone expected great things. Especially when Taka shot off the grid and was first into Turn One, just as Morbidelli almost took out Rins in the crowded first corner.
Binder instantly went one better and did actually take Miller out by ramming him.
Four corners later, in Turn Five, Taka took himself out by asking too much of his still-cold front tyre, and found himself in what Douglas Adams once called “The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul”. Racers call it the Gravel Trap, but same same.
Morbidelli immediately shot hard into the lead and proceeded to ride a metronomically perfect race. Rins pursued gallantly, as did Zarco and Vinales, but Franco was simply superb and utterly untouchable. Think Lorenzo on a good day.
Mir, who had started in 12th also immediately set to work carving steadily through the field. He was helped in his efforts by Fabulous who was again riding backwards. He was initially holding up Crutchlow and young Marquez, but not for all that long.
Rins, doggedly pursuing Morbidelli for most of the race, had elected to go out on a soft front tyre and knew he had to take advantage of that grip early on. Morbidelli had opted for a medium/medium combo at the last second on the grid, and it was a master-stroke. Interestingly, young Marquez had wedged a hard front-tyre on his Honda, and looked to be on the boil as he surged forward from his 10th place start.
Three laps in saw Morbidelli and Rins edge slightly ahead of Zarco and Vinales, as Alex Marquez surged on and Cal stopped surging altogether. It seems around Lap Six he snapped something in his right shoulder as he changed direction leaving Turn Three and going into Turn Four. How this will pan out for Cal is anyone’s guess.
Mir had worked his way into fifth and was now harrying Vinales, who could probably hear the Suzuki close behind him.
Mir then set a lap record, which Vinales didn’t hear.
Was young Marquez daunted? Not at all. He was all over the back of Mir while Mir was aiming to shove Vinales between them if he could just get around the factory Yamaha roadblock.
Bagnaia finished his terrible weekend by rolling back into the pits with 18 laps to go, and walked quietly back to his motorhome accompanied only by the defeated sighs of his pit crew.
Mir finally came past Vinales, as did young Marquez a corner later, and worked himself into a threatening fifth place.
Morbidelli and Rins had now gapped Zarco by a solid 1.6 seconds, and Mir was also closing quickly on the Frenchman. With 13 laps to go, Mir went around him and Zarco now found himself fending off Alex Marquez. Marquez waited until Turn 15, and holding a tighter line, came up the inside of Zarco to secure himself in fourth.
But not for long. Zarco block-passed him coming into Turn One – demonstrating once again that even the 2019 satellite Ducati has all the power it needs on the straights and that Zarco himself is pure Napoleonic determination. It didn’t matter. Marquez waited a scant three corners and duffed him up again.
Ten laps from the end, Oliveira navigated past Fabulous who was flubbing about in the middle of the field, while Dovi and Petrucci were seeing Iker Lecuona outride them up the back. Eventually, Bradl also out-raced Dovi, who finished in 13th. Everyone got points this race. Only 15 riders finished, but it was a dark day for Ducati by any measure.
But it was an even darker day for Honda. Its great new hope and Puig’s personal validation, dumped his bike in the gravel and ended his chances for a finish, let alone a podium.
At the front, Morbidelli was supreme.
He had now gapped Rins by almost a second, while Mir stayed a steady two-and-a-bit seconds behind his team-mate in third. No-one else was even in the game.
There were some minor ructions at the back when Aleix Espargaro forced Dovi wide into the reverse corkscrew, sending him back to assert his dominance over Rabat and Smith over who was going to be not last. Oliveira managed to get past Vinales and contented himself by contending harshly with Zarco for fifth place. Zarco managed to just hold that KTM off, but not Pol’s KTM, which had passed him a few corners before.
His brother, Aleix, fought with Fabulous for eighth place for a bit, then strangely rode straight off the track three laps from the end of the race, his Aprilia clearly refusing to brake, turn, or race any more.
The last two laps were Morbidelli being superb, Rins resigning himself to a solid second, and Mir increasing his championship lead by coming third.
There are three races left. Two at Valencia and the last, and the likely deciding round, at the unknown Portimao.
75-points still up for grabs and only 32-points cover the top six.
So while we can see the end of this magnificent, heartbreaking, and life-affirming season – it still defies any type of prediction.
And that’s just amazing.
MotoGP Race Results
|Aleix ESPARGARO||Aprilia||3 Laps|
|Alex MARQUEZ||Honda||10 Laps|
|Francesco BAGNAIA||Ducati||18 Laps|
|Not Finished 1st Lap|
|Takaaki NAKAGAMI||Honda||0 Lap|
|Jack MILLER||Ducati||0 Lap|
|Brad BINDER||KTM||0 Lap|
MotoGP World Championship Standings
2020 MotoGP Calendar
|13||08 November||Comunitat Valenciana-Ricardo Tormo|
|14||15 November||Comunitat Valenciana-Ricardo Tormo|
|15||22 November||Autodromo Internacional do Algarve|