2020 MotoGP Round Three – Brno
With Boris Mihailovic
In just 41-and-a-bit minutes, Brad Binder made himself more popular in South Africa than the annual gnu harvest. Marriageable maidens were being prepared even as the rookie sailed around Brno on his warm-down lap, the South African flag flapping behind him. The Giraffe King had brought great honour to his kraal and only the finest biltong would be consumed at his victory feast.
And rightly so.
This is the first time in living memory a steel largely trellis-framed bike (which everyone laughed at) not only saw its rider (on his third-ever MotorGP race) on the top step, but on the top step by a massive 5.2 seconds. He didn’t just win. He annihilated the field. And from seventh on the grid no less.
Like South Africa, KTM is over the moon at its first MotoGP victory. It was coming. We all kinda knew that. The Orange Empire does nothing by halves, makes plans of world domination, and then executes them. The hiring of Dani Pedrosa as a development rider is certainly the smartest money anyone in MotoGP has spent in two decades.
The factory has conquered just about every aspect of motorcycle sport, from Dakar to MotoGP. Should it turn its attention to WSBK and the IOM TT, only fools would doubt its eventual success there, too.
Of course, any mention of KTM cannot help but include the angriest human on the planet right now, Pol Espargaro.
You’ll recall it was Pol who did all the shining during Practice and Qualifying – where his fastest lap was taken from him because he exceeded track limits. Thus he found himself in sixth on the grid – ahead of Brad – and already a bit pissed.
As Brad began carving his way to the front of the field, Pol must have lost his mind. Surely it was he who deserved KTM’s first-ever podium? Be buggered if he was gonna let this rookie take that from him after all his efforts. He redoubled his efforts, and then Zarco happened.
Race direction penalised Zarco for “irresponsible riding” when he jammed his old Ducati up the inside of charging Pol. But Pol had drifted wide because he was busting all his nuts to catch the uncatchable Binder, and when the Spaniard corrected his drift, Zarco was where Pol wanted to be.
They made contact, and then Pol was where he did not want to be, in the gravel.
I didn’t see an issue with what Zarco did, but Pol was incandescent with rage – you can always tell when they’re pissed, because they don’t take their helmets off for a while – and Race Direction handed Zarco, who was then in third place, a slow-lap penalty. Zarco complied and hammered his way around the outside of the designated corner with his knee down, dust flying, and did not lose a place. It was quite magnificent to see, as was his stunning Qualifying lap which set him on pole.
So what happened to everyone else?
Well, there was lots of complaining about the poor grip on the track. Brno had not been resurfaced since 2008. It was bumpy and it seemed to affect the factory teams more so than the satellite riders.
The grid ended up being a little…well, weird. Zarco was on pole, ahead of Fabulous and Morbidelli. This prompted Jack Miller to speculate how amazing it was that two French riders had no problem with their French tyres, but everyone else did.
He was starting back in 14th, so his frustration was understandable. Dovi, ever mindful of his current contract stand-off with Ducati, clearly planned to impress by riding through the field from 18th on the grid – behind such powerhouses as Iker Lecuona and Tits Rabbit. Petrucci had managed to find himself in eighth, ahead of Mir, Rossi, and Rins.
And this, after everyone had declared Brno to be a “Ducati track”.
Bagnaia, who’d upheld the honour of Bologna last race, was having his broken leg seen to after troweling himself in P1, and has been declared unfit for the next two races.
While HRC, with its two factory bikes sitting last and second-last on the grid, was doubtlessly planning a frank meeting with the leathery Puig, who would explain to the factory how placing all of its championship eggs into a basket called Marquez was the right strategy. Especially since Puig declared Marc required his second surgery as a result of opening a French window the week before. This may well be true (Marquez’s titanium plate, weakened by his rush to return at Andalusia, may well have snapped as he wrestled with a stuck window), but it sounded like the ravings of a mad man.
All eyes were on Fabulous as the lights went out. No-one, not even Zarco, thought Zarco would be competitive despite his superb qualifying. It looked, for all intents and purposes, like a total Yamaha sweep, one way or another.
Into Turn One, Fabulous was first, but then ran wide and allowed Morbidelli through. Aleix Espargaro briefly hung onto third, before he too went past Fabulous.
But Morbidelli was gone. He had begun to gap the field on the first lap and was a second clear going into Lap Two.
At the end of Lap Two, Morbidelli was still gone, Aleix had drifted back into third, and Fabulous and Binder were chasing Morbidelli.
Behind them was nothing but despair.
Vinales was ninth and getting slower. Rossi was eighth and getting faster. Rins, in seventh, was consistent and solid. All the Ducatis were barely in the points and the factory Hondas were riding shotgun at the back.
With 17 laps to go, Mir and Lecuona went to plough bits of Brno Mir had not ploughed before. You’ll recall Spacestation Mir had launched himself and his bike into the trees a year ago at this track. Rossi had passed Vinales, but was just not lapping at the speed of the front-runners.
At the pointy end, Morbidelli was managing his second-or-so lead, while behind him Binder relentlessly tortured Fabulous, as Pol finally managed to get passed Zarco for fourth.
As the race began to develop, Rossi looked to be held up by Rins and Aleix, while Pol looked to make sure it was his KTM on the podium and not Binder’s.
Then Binder put Fabulous between him and his team-mate. And immediately started to close the gap to Morbidelli.
Fabulous, clearly losing grip, was soon being monstered by Pol and Zarco. But not for long. Pol passed Fabulous with 13 laps to go, but ran a bit wide and let Fabulous back through. The red mist blinding him, Pol redoubled his efforts, and that’s when the Zarco incident happened.
Fabulous’s rubber issues got worse, as Zarco found himself in third, as Binder relentlessly closed the gap to Morbidelli in a display of controlled and determined riding that was a joy to behold.
With nine laps to go, Binder was on Morbidelli’s back tyre, and then he was in front, and then he was just gone. Zarco did his long-lap penalty, but kept third place as Pol smashed things inside his trailer.
Rins and Rossi also closed on Fabulous and with five laps to go, passed him, as Oliveira also started to reel in the hapless Frenchman.
With two laps left, Binder was uncatchable. Morbidelli hung on in second, and Rins was starting to threaten Zarco for third.
At the chequered flag, South Africa must have been like that scene in Giraffe King when Simba’s daddy holds Simba up to all the animals and they all bow in worship of the future king.
History had been made, and it was a privilege to see.
Red Bull Ring in Austria is next week and the week after. Marquez is due to return.
What that means is anyone’s guess, but I predict Cal Crutchlow will crash. He’s kinda due for one after managing to drag his LCR Honda home, undamaged, in 13th, just behind the factory Ducatis.
Hell of a year so far, huh?
MotoGP Race Results
|DNF||Pol ESPARGARO||KTM||12 Laps|
|DNF||Joan MIR||Suzuki||18 Laps|
|DNF||Iker LECUONA||KTM||18 Laps|
MotoGP World Championship Standings