MotoGP: Quartararo Takes Sixth Pole in Final 2019 MotoGP Qualifying

The nineteenth and final qualifying session of the 2019 MotoGP World Championship took place in relatively cold conditions. The contrast between this nineteenth round and round eighteen two weeks ago in Sepang has been drastic, a polar opposite in terms of temperature especially, but it was nonetheless the usual trio of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who were looking to be the favourites.

Q1 was first, though, before the pole position shootout, and it was one rider short with Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) missing out after a bizarre FP3 crash at the end of pit lane courtesy of the cold weather draining the temperature from the carbon brakes of his satellite Ducati Desmosedici GP18. The Italian, whilst coming out of the pits braked, unleashing the power of the front carbon brakes, causing his tyre to come to a halt instantly. The end result was to cause Bagnia to face plant the track.   A lack of memory courtesy of the face plant as well as a wrist injury, saw him declared unfit aftert a trip to the hospital.

Of the riders who did compete in Q1, it was Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) who advanced through to Q2.

Marc Marquez looking back at his retiring team mate, Jorge Lorenzo at Valencia, 2019 . Motogp, Image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol

The final pole position of 2019 went to Fabio Quartararo, quite fittingly, as the qualifying master of the season, the one who was usually able to find the most with a fresh soft rear tyre, was able to come out on top of Marquez in their penultimate scrap of the season. Marquez will start alongside the Frenchman, returning the front row after his eleventh-place qualifying in Sepang, while Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) completes the front row.

Row two is headed up by Maverick Vinales, who is joined by Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and – more worryingly for the Spaniard, as well as Quartararo – Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) who could cause problems for Vinales tomorrow should he get past the #12 in the opening stages tomorrow. It is not easy to pass a Ducati, nor is it easy to pass in Valencia. Additionally, for the Yamaha riders they know that they need to pass early in the lap so they have a chance to build a gap before the main straight because they cannot live with the horsepower of the Ducati. This was Rossi’s problem in Sepang, but as in Motegi it could be the problem of Vinales, and possible also Quartararo now in Valencia with Miller and Dovizioso having the potential to cause frustrations.
Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) enjoyed a positive final qualifying of his rookie season, taking seventh on the grid ahead of teammate Alex Rins, who will have work to do tomorrow from eighth with his strong race pace, and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL) who completes the third row.

Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) heads up the fourth row ahead of Pol Espargaro who was briefly sixth despite qualifying in Q2 on a hard rear tyre. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) disappointingly was the slowest rider in Q2 and qualified twelfth, his fastest time being the first lap of his first tyre and three tenths of a second slower than his FP3 time in the freezing conditions of Saturday morning.

Johann Zarco (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) was the fastest rider to miss out on Q2, qualifying thirteenth in what might be his final ride for LCR Honda, maybe his final ride for Honda and maybe his final ride in MotoGP but it also might not be some of those- it might not be any of them. Joining the Frenchman on row five will be Ducati wildcard Michele Pirro (Ducati Team) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who crashed three times on Saturday before qualifying.
Row six will see Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) start from sixteenth on his final MotoGP appearance ahead of Mika Kallio (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) who may also be competing his final MotoGP race this weekend. The sixth row is completed by Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing).

Jorge Lorenzo at Valencia 2019 for his last Motogp race. Image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol

MotoGP first-timer Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) made an impressive first qualifying appearance in the premier class, qualifying nineteenth, ahead of Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Karel Abraham (Reale Avintia Racing), who join him on the seventh row, as well as Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech 3), his teammate on the satellite RC16 for this weekend, the Malaysian also making his final appearance in MotoGP.

Featured  image courtesy of Yamaha Racing.

Moto3: Migno Scores First Pole for 100th GP Start

Qualifying for the nineteenth and final round of the 2019 Moto3 World Championship in Valencia took place in conditions similar to the rest of the weekend, with track temperatures remarkably low.

In Q1, Tatsuki Suzuki’s (SIC 58 Squadra Corse) first lap was enough to move through to Q2 with the fastest Q1 time. Wildcard Carlos Tatay (Fundacion Andreas Perez 77), Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Darryn Binder (CIP Green Power) joined the Japanese in advancing to the second qualifying session for the lightweight class.

Q2 saw Andrea Migno (Mugen Race) score his first career pole position, putting him in the best place possible at the start of what will be his 100th Grand Prix start tomorrow. Jaume Masia ensured a Mugen Race double front row, scoring his first top-three qualifying since Argentina, a race he went on to win. Between the two teammates on the front row for the final race of the season is the in-form qualifier of the junior category, Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) who was denied a third-straight pole by Migno. The front row is important for Ramirez, who is looking to overhaul Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers) for third in the championship.

Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) qualified fourth ahead of rookie and emerging star of the fly away races, Canet’s replacement for this season in Estrella Galicia 0,0 Sergio Garcia, and one of the outstanding riders of this weekend, Filip Salac (Redox PruestelGP) who completes the second row.
Row three sees World Champion Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) starting ahead of Tatsuki Suzuki and Darryn Binder; while Romano Fenati (VNE Snipers) and his teammate Tony Arbolino – who suffered a big high side early in the Q2 session which hampered his chances – were split by the wildcard Carlos Tatay who qualified eleventh in his second ever GP.

John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) had a disappointing final qualifying of the season and will line up thirteenth tomorrow, ahead of Niccolo Antonelli (SIC 58 Squadra Corse) and Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0); while row six sees Raul Fernandez (Valresa Angel Nieto Team) line up ahead of wildcard Xavier Argtigas (Leopard Impala Junior Team) and Riccardo Rossi (Kommerling Gresini Moto3) who crashed before setting a time in Q2.
Jeremy Alcoba (Kommerling Gresini Moto3) lines up at the head of the seventh row after narrowly missing out on Q2 with his final lap as he replaces Gabriel Rodrigo. Thailand winner Albert Arenas (Valresa Angle Nieto Team) and Qatar victor Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) join the newly crowned CEV Moto3 Junior World Champion on row seven.

Can Oncu, Valencia Moto3 2019. Image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM

On row eight, Makar Yurchenko (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) starts ahead of the injured Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Stefano Nepa (Reale Avintia Arizona 77); whilst Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) starts ahead of Dennis Foggia (SKY Racing Team VR46) and last year’s Valencian GP winner Can Oncu (Red Bull KTM Ajo) in what looks like the Turk’s final race in Moto3 and in grand prix racing for the foreseeable future.

Celestino Vietti (SKY Racing Team VR46) takes the worst qualifying of his rookie season in the final race of the year with twenty-eighth – Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PruestelGP) and Tom Booth-Amos (CIP Green Power) join the Italian on row ten.

An early crash for Kazuki Masaki (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) ended the Japanese’s chances of a good qualifying in what seems to be his final race in Moto3 – the former Red Bull Rookies champion will start from last.

Featured Image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM

MotoGP: Win or Bust in the Last Race of the Season

This weekend the 2019 MotoGP World Championship arrives in Valencia for the final round of the season.

Twelve months ago it was Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) who triumphed in torrential conditions, bringing Ducati their third victory at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo after Troy Bayliss in 2006 and Casey Stoner in 2010. Repeating such a result in dry conditions would be tough for Dovizioso, the tight and twisty layout of Valencia, which offers little chance to open up the bike and use the power, working against the characteristics of the Desmosedici.

In comparison, for World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) Valencia can work quite well. The compactness of the track means that agility is key, and Marquez’ upper-body strength combined with the RC213V’s compact design means this combination can be deadly at Valencia. Previously we have seen front tyre troubles impact Honda’s performance in this final race, but simultaneously seen Marquez overcome them. For example in 2016 when he chased down Jorge Lorenzo in the latter parts of the race after choosing to save his tyre in the first part of the GP. However, Marquez has not won in Valencia since 2014 in the mixed conditions, his only premier class victory at the track, so dominance akin to what we saw at the last Spanish round in Aragon would be a surprise.

And the surprises at this weekend’s Valencian Grand Prix have already started, with Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) announcing his retirement from grand prix racing at the end of this weekend. ‘Surprise’ might not be the correct word, but it was perhaps unexpected for the five-times World Champion to announce his withdrawal from the World Championship this weekend. It will likely not be a fitting end to Lorenzo’s illustrious career – the Spaniard is without a top ten since last August and his retirement comes as a result of poor performances at least in part injury induced, that Lorenzo does not see a resolution to.

Valentino Rossi at the 2019 Malaysian MotoGP race. Image courtesy of Yamaha Racing

Lorenzo’s retirement means that Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) will be the last remaining ‘Alien’ – the quartet of Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Rossi and Stoner who were the men to beat in MotoGP at the end of the last decade and in the beginning of this one – to race in MotoGP, the last one to stop. It is easy to forget that it has been already seven years since Stoner retired at the end of 2012, and Lorenzo’s announcement also highlights Rossi’s longevity in motorcycle racing. Having raced his 400th Grand Prix in Phillip Island, Rossi is about to enter his twenty-fifth season of GPs, but his time too is closing and in twelve months time it could well be the Italian who we are saying ‘goodbye’ to.

Rossi is still without a podium since Texas, having been unable to successfully pass Dovizioso for third last time out in Sepang, and so the end of 2019 will be a welcome relief for the nine-times champion who will be eager get on with testing next Tuesday as much as anything else.

On the other side of the factory Yamaha garage, though, Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) will be wishing there were a race in December and another in January because the Spaniard has finally found what he needs to regularly fight for wins. His Sepang victory came off the back of a disastrous end to the Australian GP one week before. The could temperatures of a Valencian November could be helpful for Yamaha and Vinales, as they look to end this season with back-to-back wins.

Elsewhere, but remaining with Yamaha, Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) is looking to finish as second Yamaha for the season by beating Valentino Rossi in the championship overall. There are six points separating the rookie from the veteran, so the odds are in Quartararo’s favour. Primarily, though, Quartararo will look to end his first season as a winner in the MotoGP class.

Featured Image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol

MotoGP: First Title Shot for Marquez in Thailand

The fifteenth round of the 2019 MotoGP World Championship takes the series to Thailand and Buriram for the second time after the Chang International Circuit was added to the Grand Prix calendar last year.

The Thai track offers a reasonably unique challenge. Unique enough, at least, for Michelin to bring a tyre construction to Buriram that only otherwise sees action in Austria.

Last year, it was this tyre which allowed Yamaha to be competitive, giving them the rear support they require to exit turns with good drive. The same tyre allowed the M1 to finish 3-4-5 in Spielberg earlier this year, and so it is expected that it could see the slowest bike on the grid be strong this weekend as well.

This is counter-intuitive when looking at the layout, which is dominated by long straights and hard braking zones in the first half. The second half lends itself more to the M1, courtesy of an abundance of corners of varying lengths and radii, as well as direction changes where the cornering stability of the Yamaha becomes overtly advantageous.

The divided nature of the Buriram track means that several bikes can find lap time, as we saw last season when the two factory Yamaha riders fought with the factory Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and the factory Honda of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team).

The gains made by Honda in the engine department this season mean that a repeat of last season’s last lap duel is not guaranteed. In 2019, the RC213V can live with the Desmosedici in the straights and, in the hands of Marquez, out-turn it in the corners and in particular the short corners, like turn three in Austria or the final corner in Buriram, something which could prove pivotal for the outcome of the race should it come down to a final lap scrap once again.

Marc Marquez whilst in the paddock area in Thailand 2019. Image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol

All of this is good for Marquez, this weekend perhaps more than any other, as the reigning World Champion needs to out-score Dovizioso by two points on Sunday to win his eighth Grand Prix title and his sixth in the premier class. This year Marquez’ racing philosophy has changed; whereas before he lived for the fight, he now lives for the twenty-five points. Such a change in strategy has seen him produce some devastating performances, for example in Aragon two weeks ago where he won by almost five seconds and at one point led by over seven. In the context of this weekend, his new way of racing could see him make things dull for the viewer, disappearing in the first laps to allow him the option to cruise to the flag and pick up another championship, four races from the end of the season.

There are two people who can stop Marquez from walking away from Buriram with another title: himself and Dovizioso, the Italian being the more likely. In 2018, the Ducati rider took Marquez to the final corner, as he did in Austria in the first race back after the summer break. Such a performance will be required once again from Dovizioso if he is to put off the inevitable until Japan at the beginning of the triple header.

It will not, though, be a case of a duel. At least, that is unlikely. The two Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP riders, Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, should be there in the fight as they were last season. Especially for Rossi, the stiffer casing of the rear tyre should be a benefit this weekend. Additionally, Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) should be in the mix as he has so often been in 2019, as well as perhaps the factory Suzuki of Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) who will be keen to respond to his poor race in Aragon. On the contrary, Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) will be looking to continue his form from Aragon, where he was third, and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL) too after he finished sixth in MotorLand and felt he had podium potential.

Andrea Dovizioso at the Thailand GP 2019. Image courtesy of Ducati

One thing which could spoil all the plans is the weather. With WorldSBK having a round earlier in the season in Buriram, the MotoGP race is forced to happen later on, in what happens to be the back end of the rainy season in Thailand.

Rain is predicted for the weekend, and a wet race would be a first for the CIC. Furthermore, should practice be compromised by rain, riders will be on the limit to try to make Q2 directly whilst also trying to find a good race set up should Sunday remain dry.

Finally, after his injury in practice at Aragon, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) is back in action this weekend aboard his RC16 to partner Mika Kallio (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) in his second race in place of Johann Zarco.

Featured Image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol

MotoGP: Aragon Dominance Brings Title Within Reach for Marquez

The fourteenth round of the 2019 MotoGP World Championship took place at MotorLand Aragon, as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) dominated proceedings to record an eighth victory of the season.

It was a lights-to-flag beat-down of the opposition by Marquez, winning in the end by 4.836 seconds after slowing over the line to celebrate his latest triumph – the seventy-seventh of his career in just his two-hundredth start. Other important and alarming numbers from Marquez include his points advantage in the championship, which now stands at ninety-eight, meaning the Spaniard can wrap up his eighth world title at the next race in Thailand.

This victory, and the style in which it came, was predictable from FP1, when the World Championship leader led the session by 1.6 seconds over Maverick Vinales, who was the only rider within two seconds of Marquez. This year it has been easy to say that Marquez’ life has been made simpler, by a Honda which is as fast as the Ducati in a straight line, and faster than all the other bikes, meaning he does not have to push so far over the limit as in the past when the RC213V was relatively slow. However, the gap to the second Honda, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL), at the flag on Sunday was 10.390 seconds. In a period in MotoGP where the entire field can be within 1.5 seconds of each other over one lap, and a top fifteen within twenty seconds or less, the amount of time Marquez put into his opposition in MotorLand was nothing short of astounding, and for his rivals it was another demoralising exhibition of talent from the twenty-six-year-old.

Behind Marquez there was a good fight, the Aragon GP being almost reminiscent of the World Superbike rounds of early-2019 when Alvaro Bautista was capable of clearing off by fifteen seconds or more. Surprisingly, it was Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) who led the fight for second early on, before being overhauled by Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) after the Spaniard had passed and dropped Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT).

Maverick Viñales at the 2019 Aragon Motogp Race. Image courtesy of Yamaha Racing

After Vinales passed Miller he decided to chase Marquez. This would prove to be a mistake from the #12, as he stressed his tyres excessively, leaving him defenceless at the end when both Miller and Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso arrived with superior grip and superior power. It is easy to pick this hole in Vinales’ plan, but he was almost cornered into it. Vinales’ M1 is significantly slower in the straights than the Ducatis of Miller and Dovizioso, so he could not afford to sit behind Miller and wait for the final lap, or towards the end of the race, because Miller would have been able to fight back with the straight line speed and braking stability of the Desmosedici. Nor could Vinales pass Miller and then sit half a second ahead of him to protect his tyres, since that too would have left him vulnerable to an attack he would have been unequipped to repel. Therefore, trying to escape was Vinales’ only option in view of making the podium and yet it was the strategy which cost him the trophy. This highlights the necessity for Yamaha to continue to work to give its riders a more competitive package for next season, one which is not so vulnerable in the straights in particular.

Whilst it was a difficult race for Vinales and Yamaha to miss the podium on a track they were proving to be – surprisingly – quite competitive at, for Ducati a double podium was almost a miracle. Misano had been a disaster for Ducati and, apart from Miller’s lap to put him on the second row on Saturday in Aragon, it was looking as though it could be another tough race for the Bologna bikes. Dovizioso’s pace, though, was good, and the Italian made a decent start and made good progress from the fourth row to arrive in third place with ten laps to go, whilst Miller had a brilliant beginning to the race and looked after his tyres well. Both of them were able to take advantage of the grip-less Vinales in the end, and bring Ducati its first double podium since Brno, where the podium was identical to the one in Aragon.

Fabio Quartararo, Aragon MotoGP 2019. Image courtesy of Yamaha Racing

Three seconds behind the battle for the podium, Fabio Quartararo was the second Yamaha over the line in fifth, fifteen seconds ahead of the next Yamaha, Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), in eighth. Cal Crutchlow was sixth, ten seconds off the win but after a much better weekend than Misano. Perhaps the biggest surprise of Aragon was Aprilia, with Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) starting from fifth and finishing seventh, although the RSGP always seems to work well in MotorLand. Behind Espargaro were Rossi, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) who completed the top ten.

It should have been much more for Rins, who had podium potential, but taking out Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) on the opening lap in turn twelve dropped the #42 to nineteenth and a subsequent long-lap penalty further compromised his race, leaving him ninth.

Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) finished where he started – eleventh – after fighting with Nakagami, Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team, twelfth) and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3, thirteenth) for most of the race. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was last for six laps after a mistake on lap four cost him seven seconds. The Spaniard recovered to fourteenth, finishing ahead of compatriot Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) who completed the points.

Sixteenth place went to Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) after another difficult weekend for the Italian who was ahead of Mika Kallio (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – the lone factory RC16 rider finishing seventeenth on his first replacement ride for Johann Zarco due to Pol Espargaro’s withdrawal from the race following his FP4 crash on Saturday. Karel Abraham (Reale Avintia Racing) was eighteenth ahead of wildcard Bradley Smith (Aprilia Racing Team) and Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) who was disappointed in twentieth. Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) was the only rider behind Lorenzo, the Malaysian being the final classified finisher in twenty-first.

Featured Image courtesy of Jamie Olivers/Box Repsol

MotoGP: Marquez Continues Aragon Domination with Pole Position

After a damp FP3 on Saturday morning which saw limited running from most riders, qualifying in Aragon for the fourteenth round of the 2019 MotoGP World Championship took place in perfect conditions.

The first session saw a surprise, as Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) prevented Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) from advancing to Q2 using the tow of Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who topped the first session.

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was 1.6 seconds faster than everyone in Friday morning’s FP1 session and, although the championship leader had not been close to the 1’46.8 that gave him that advantage since FP1, pole position was almost guaranteed. Once more, Marquez was unable to match his 46.8 from Friday morning, but his 1’47.009 was enough for pole position by 0.327 seconds over Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT).

Fabio Quartararo, Aragon MotoGP 2019. Image courtesy of Yamaha Motor Europe

Marquez’ pace is superior for Sunday’s race, but it looks like the battle for second place will be between Quartararo and Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), who line up alongside the #93 on the front row.

Jack miller (Pramac Racing) produced a surprise by putting his independent Ducati in fourth place in a track where the Desmosedici has not been entirely comfortable this weekend. There is another surprise in the middle of the second row, where Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) will start from tomorrow after a brilliant lap following Marquez at the end of Q2. The last spot on the second row went to Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) who seems to be staring down the barrel of a fourth-consecutive fourth place finish tomorrow.

Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL) starts from the front of the third row, highlighting the strength of Marquez on the same bike, who was 1.313 seconds quicker than the #35. Franco Morbidelli and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) will join the Briton on row three.

Crutchlow’s late lap to go seventh pushed Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) off the third row, and the Italian will start back in tenth which could limit his chances. Andrea Iannone was unable to make much of his Q2 appearance and will start eleventh courtesy of Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) missing qualifying due to a crash in FP4 which could also see him miss tomorrow’s race, which he would start from twelfth.

Thirteenth place went to Alex Rins, the Spaniard being the fastest rider to miss out on the pole position shoot-out. There is a lot of work now for Rins to do tomorrow, but his pace is strong and he can still make a good result if his start is good. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) qualified fourteenth, whilst Danilo Petrucci’s struggles aboard the Ducati Team Desmosedici GP19 continued, the Italian finishing only fifth in Q1 to qualify fifteenth overall.

Sixteenth place went to Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) who is having another tough weekend aboard the satellite Desmosedici. Joining the reigning Moto2 World Champion on the sixth row are fellow rookie Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) and 2014 Moto2 World Champion Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing).

Mika Kallio’s replacement of Johann Zarco at Red Bull KTM Factory Racing for the rest of the season came as a shock earlier in the week, but the Finn has had a decent weekend in Spain on his return to racing after the injury he sustained in Germany last year. Kallio will start nineteenth, ahead of Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) and Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) on the seventh row, Karel Abraham (Reale Avintia Racing) will head up a two-man back row from Bradley Smith (Aprilia Racing Team) who is wildcarding this weekend for the first time since Barcelona.

Featured Image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol

MotoGP: The Quartararo Effect

Rivalries have been a key part of sport since the beginning. Rivalry inspires competitors to achieve more than their perceived capabilities. This is true for all sport but especially for motorcycle racing, where pushing beyond the limit can have significant consequences.

Throughout the history of grand prix motorcycle racing, rivalries have played a large role in its narrative, whether between factories or riders: from Hailwood and Agostini to Rainey and Schwantz, to the MotoGP era and Rossi’s on-track feuds with Biaggi, Gibernau, Stoner and more – rivalries have taken on an important role in the story of motorcycle racing, to transform it from a cold engineering pursuit of the fastest way to cover a Grand Prix distance to a heated conflict where lap time is the warhead and the motorcycle is the ICBM.

In Misano, we saw the birth of a new rivalry, one which was hard to envisage all of sixteen months ago. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) has dominated MotoGP since he arrived in the premier class in 2013, and his strength continues to grow. The outlook of the future of MotoGP begins to look increasingly bleak when fans are faced with the prospect of one of the most divisive figures in racing cruising to world titles at will until he decides to go and do something else.

Marc Marquez winner of the 2019 Misano GP. Image Courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol

In the Superbike World Championship, Jonathan Rea has dominated the last four championships and is now the greatest rider in the history of production-derived motorcycle racing. Similar to the case in MotoGP with Marquez, it was difficult to see an end to the domination of Rea, such was his strength, but this season Alvaro Bautista arrived and has won fourteen races. For the first part of the season, Bautista was not only unbeaten, but completely unrivalled, winning races by over ten seconds as if it were nothing. The middle of the championship did not go to plan for Bautista and now the championship fight is all but over. However, the Spaniard showed that Rea is beatable, and identified himself as the anti-Rea.

This year, we may have finally identified the anti-Marquez, the rider who can challenge the (currently) seven-times World Champion in the future and prevent a monotonous domination of the sport by its most exciting rider. Fabio Quartararo has been enjoying a stellar rookie season aboard the Petronas Yamaha SRT YZR-M1, with several podiums and pole positions, out-classing not only his more experienced teammate Franco Morbidelli but also the factory Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP riders, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales, on numerous occasions.

The San Marinese MotoGP was no different, with Quartararo finishing as top Yamaha, having led most of the race and fought with Marc Marquez at the end of the race. Although Marquez came out on top of the duel with an outrageous display of braking performance into turn eight and tactically clever defensive riding into turn fourteen, Quartararo finally took the leap of fighting for a race win. The Frenchman was unable to topple Marquez on this occasion, but with Quartararo there is the certainty that he will be there to fight with the #93 on many more occasions across the next ten years or more.

Andrea Dovizioso at Misano 2019 MotoGP. Image courtesy of Ducati

This presents a dilemma for Yamaha. Ducati want to win the World Championship and despite their best wishes and those of Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), it looks perhaps unlikely that the #04 can challenge Marquez over the course of a season and come out on top. Therefore, Ducati might want to sign a new rider for 2021, one who they believe can win them their second MotoGP championship. Fabio Quartararo might be one of the riders they want to sign, but so might Maverick Vinales. If Ducati are considering one of these two riders they will likely try to lock down Quartararo before Vinales, meaning Yamaha need to act quickly to secure the services of Quartararo from 2021 – something they want to do because they, too, want to win the MotoGP World Championship – quelle surprise!

The problem for Yamaha comes with irony strapped to the side like fuel in a 1960s F1 car, just waiting to blow up and cut their legs off. The problem is Valentino Rossi, who wants six or seven races at the beginning of 2020 to decide if he wants to stay in MotoGP for another year or two. Forty-year-old Rossi has not had a good year in 2019, and hasn’t had a podium since round three where an uncharacteristic error cost him the win in Texas. The Italian is undoubtedly capable of fighting at the front of MotoGP with the correct machinery, but the correct machinery is evidently not the one that Yamaha are currently providing him, whereas it evidently is for Quartararo and Vinales. If Yamaha want to secure their potential future star, Quartararo, they need Rossi to make a decision on his future by Jerez, or tell him his services are unrequired for 2021.

If Quartararo were to hold out for Yamaha – a very plausible scenario considering his comfort with the M1 – Ducati could sign Vinales, who must surely be beginning to believe that his success is more likely to be found away from Iwata. During the period of Vinales swapping deep blue for red, Rossi could quite conceivably decide that it is time to go and do something else, leaving two vacant seats in Yamaha, with only one available to be filled by Quartararo, of course.

Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi, together at the 2019 San Marino MotoGP Race. Image courtesy of Yamaha Racing

It would make sense for Franco Morbidelli to take the second factory Yamaha seat, but Morbidelli has the same setup and riding style issues as Rossi, and even then there would be a duo of vacant seats in the Petronas squad.

Fabio Quartararo’s performance in Misano was superb, both for him and for Yamaha. But now, the factory must face some difficult decisions which have the potential significantly impact its future, perhaps for the better but maybe for the worse.

Featured image courtesy of Yamaha racing

MotoGP: Vinales Takes Misano Pole From Espargaro, KTM

Cloudless skies meant high temperatures on the Rimini Riviera, and for the MotoGP riders that meant grip at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli was at a premium as they qualified for the thirteenth round of the 2019 World Championship.

Q1 saw four or five riders all battling for the top two positions to advance to Q2, but in the end it was Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) who topped the session from Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), the pair moving through to the pole position shootout.

Maverick Vinales celebrating his Pole for the San Marino GP 2019. Image courtesy of Yamaha Motor Racing Srl

The Q2 session was very tight, with four riders fighting for pole position: Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). The Yamaha riders had been dominating the weekend, but Marquez had been fast, and remained in touch throughout free practice, although the Honda was proving difficult to manage – especially in the high speed right-handers in sector three.

Marquez was keen to ensure that no one was in his tow, as was Quartararo on his second run. Vinales and Marquez both did three runs, although Marquez’ middle run did not see a flying lap, as he boxed before he started one. This meant both riders were out of sync with most of the rest of the field. Vinales managed to find himself some free space in the final lap, whilst Quartararo was trying to shake Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Marquez was behind Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP).

After slowing on the first flying lap of his final run to try to escape the attentions of Pol Espargaro, Quartararo ran wide on the exit of turn eleven, and lost his lap as a result. Espargaro had remained in the Frenchman’s slipstream, though, and put the KTM on provisional pole position.

At the same time, Vinales in free air and Marquez behind Rossi were both on fast laps that would have displaced Espargaro. Vinales was able to finish his lap cleanly, and took provisional pole from Espargaro by almost three tenths with a stunning lap, making the most of the Yamaha’s strong front end and comfort in the middle of the corner in the second half of the lap.

Things proved more complicated for Marquez, who caught an off-the-pace Rossi early in the lap. The speed of the Honda put Marquez in the position to pass Rossi into turn eleven, but the Spaniard ran off the track and onto the green. The move from the #93 did not impress Rossi, who block-passed the World Championship leader in turn fourteen. There was no contact, but the temperature of their rivalry increased once more, and tomorrow could provide some interesting exchanges between the two.

Valentino Rossi durring Qualifying at the 2019 San Marino GP. Image courtesy of Yamaha Motor Racing Srl

With both Rossi and Marquez ruining each other’s final lap – although Rossi’s wasn’t especially fast in any case – meant pole position was handed to Vinales, his second in Misano in the last three years. The #12’s race pace looks strong, but he will need to start well, as dropping behind the powerful KTM of Espargaro could leave him vulnerable to those behind.

KTM’s best qualifying performance in their MotoGP history was nearly pole position, but nonetheless a second place in a dry qualifying was an impressive performance from Pol Espargaro, especially on a track where Yamaha have been so dominant this weekend.

Fabio Quartararo perhaps should have had pole position, but he was too concerned with those around him. It was a mistake from the Frenchman to not focus on himself, but not one that he is alone in making – even in this session most of the riders were cruising at some point to find themselves some track position. The qualifying was not a disaster, anyway, for the #20, as he will still line up on the front row, and on the inside for turn one which means he can avoid the pinch in turn two.

Franco Morbidelli was close to the front row but didn’t quite have the pace in the second half of the lap compared to his Yamaha stablemates. Fourth place for Morbidelli, though, gives him a good chance tomorrow.

It is rare to see Marc Marquez off the front row, but for just the second time this season it is what we will see tomorrow. His pace is theoretically enough to go with the Yamaha riders, but the effort he has to put in to achieve that is significantly more, it seems. There could be some interesting fights between him and Rossi, all of a stone’s throw from Tavullia, but it is likely that the pair won’t meet each other on track, and that it is the other M1 pilots who Marquez has to worry himself with.

Andrea Dovizioso at Misano 2019. Image courtesy of ducati

A sixth place start for Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) was a surprise, but it was achieved on his final lap of Q2. All Ducati riders have struggled this weekend, so for Dovizioso to salvage a second row start is something he will be disappointingly pleased with.

Missing out on the second row may well have cost Valentino Rossi a shot at the podium, and with a KTM and a Ducati in front of him there could be yet another frustrating afternoon in a home GP for The Doctor. A weekend that started out quite promisingly seems to be falling away from the Italian, who will start alongside Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) who should be expected to make progress from ninth and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) on his return to racing.

Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) will start tenth ahead of Johann Zarco, who qualified eighth but will start eleventh thanks to his grid penalty from Silverstone, and wildcard rider Michele Pirro (Ducati Team) who, aside from Dovizioso, has been the only Ducati with any real promise this weekend.

The fastest rider to miss out on Q2 was Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing), although he was close with his penultimate lap to moving through to the second session. The Italian will start his home race from thirteenth ahead of a struggling Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL) and a frustrated Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who join the reigning Moto2 World Champion on the fifth row.

Row five sees Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) line up ahead of Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team). The Ducati stablemates line up sixteenth and seventeenth respectively, ahead of the still-injured Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) on row six, which highlights Ducati’s struggles in Misano this weekend, despite winning the San Marinese round last year.

On row seven, the Red Bull KTM Tech 3 duo of Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin qualified ahead of Karel Abraham (Reale Avintia Racing); Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) was the slowest rider in Q1 despite a strong weekend for the Spaniard, and will start twenty-second, ahead of only Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who had to go to the medical centre after a FP4 crash and missed Q1 as a result.

Featured Image courtesy of Yamaha Motor Racing Srl

MotoGP: Marquez Leads the Charge to Misano

This weekend the MotoGP World Championship heads to the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli for round twelve of the 2019 season.

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) arrives in Italy for the second time this year with the championship lead, one which grew dramatically in Britain at the last race courtesy of Fabio Quartararo’s (Petronas Yamaha SRT) crash which took Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) down as well. Marquez’ points lead now sits at seventy-eight over Dovizioso and, although Misano is not a circuit that has traditionally been a particularly strong one for Marquez in the premier class – only two wins, both in the sketchy conditions of 2015 and 2017 – it is difficult to see a sizeable shift in the championship momentum this weekend.

Andrea Dovizioso at the 2019 Misano Test. Image courtesy of Ducati

It was indeed Dovizioso who won last year in Misano, nearly three seconds ahead of Marquez who inherited second after Jorge Lorenzo crashed to begin the downward spiral that has been his last twelve months. Last year’s performance from Dovizioso was somewhat crushing, pulling away with superior tyre management and pace compared to his rivals. In the test two weeks ago, though, Dovizioso complained of a poor feeling with the Desmosedici and, although the grip in Misano is famously inconsistent and unpredictable, that could put the #04 further on the back foot for this weekend.

Misano is an interesting track, since, although it is not necessarily a favourite for any of the riders, it has a reasonable amount of variety, with the direction changes and slow, short-radius corners being contrasted by those three fast right-handers in the third sector. There are no excessively long corners, none in which the rider spends a lot of time on the side of the tyre, but despite this there is a strong history for Yamaha in Misano, perhaps due to the M1’s comfort and ease with which a MotoGP rider can find lap time out of it, which in a small circuit like Misano can be useful – when corners are coming up every other second, it can be positive to have a bike which is easy to control.

Similarly, it can be good to have a bike which turns well, and the Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda – at least in the hands of Marquez – all do this. The Yamaha and Suzuki are comfortable on the edge of the tyre, as is Marquez on the Honda, but what Marquez can do better than anyone else is spin the bike around, pivot almost around the front tyre using the rear tyre to steer, and with Misano’s short corners, this technique can be especially valuable. This seems to rule out Ducati, but thanks to the numerous hard accelerations in Misano, and accompanying hard braking zones, the Desmosedici comes back into the picture with its strong braking stability and torque. Perhaps the Desmosecidi represents the perfect compromise for the MWC, since it is relatively easy to ride, certainly more so than the RC213V, but has the torque, power, aerodynamics and braking stability to mean it can maintain a strong pace throughout a race distance and also be incredibly tough to pass successfully, as Marquez discovered last year in his battle with now-teammate at Repsol Honda Jorge Lorenzo.

As previously mentioned, the grip in Misano is unpredictable, due to a variety of factors that no one can quite agree upon. The constant, though, is that the grip in Misano is always quite low. This plays against the Suzuki and Yamaha riders, since they need grip to use their corner speed advantage. All four Yamaha riders were inside the top five in the test two weeks ago, with Quartararo on top from Petronas Yamaha SRT teammate Franco Morbidelli; whilst the two factory Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP riders, Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, were fourth and fifth respectively behind Marquez in third. Additionally, Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was ninth on the combined times on his return to MotoGP action, whilst Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was fifteenth, albeit only one second off the pace. Although Vinales’ tones after the test were quite negative, all six inline-four bikes looked quite competitive in the test, but we will only find out whether that will translate to the race weekend on Friday, when we can judge the grip levels.

Jorge Lorenzo at the 2019 British MotoGP event. Image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol

Jorge Lorenzo missed almost all of the Misano test, as the Silverstone race had taken too much from his physical condition. The Spaniard is racing though this weekend, and will be looking once more to find his first top ten since his Austrian GP win last year.

Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) is not a guaranteed starter this weekend, as the Portuguese rider suffered some shoulder problems after Johann Zarco collided with him in Silverstone. The #88, like Lorenzo, did very little at the test, Oliveira’s ability to race being a doubt heading into the San Marinese GP weekend.

Featured image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol

MotoGP: Rins Beats Marquez in Classic Silverstone Duel

The twelfth round of the 2019 MotoGP World Championship took place in a strangely warm Silverstone, as Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) took a dramatic victory.

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) took the holeshot from his 60th MotoGP pole position in his 120th premier class start. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Alex Rins were behind the championship leader.

Rins lost the rear of his GSX-RR on the exit of the first corner, and Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) rolled the throttle in reaction. The Frenchman’s response caused him to lose the rear of his YZR-M1, and it flicked him. It was unfortunate for the #20, who had been fast all weekend and looked to be a guaranteed factor in the podium fight. However, instead of a trophy, Quartararo left Silverstone with a concussion.

Things were slightly worse for Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), who was right behind Quartararo when he went down. The Italian had nowhere to go, so hit the Petronas Yamaha and went down, his Desmosedici GP20 bursting into flames as it hurtled towards the barriers. Dovizioso himself had to be carried away on a stretcher which, somehow, was able to be done by the marshals before the rest of the pack completed the first lap, and thus there was no need for a red flag. Dovizioso was carried behind the barriers, where he was able to stand up. The #04 displayed signs of memory loss, and so had to be taken to hospital, where it was confirmed that he had no significant injury.

Back to the British GP and Marquez was leading from Rossi, who was coming under pressure from Rins. That did not last long, though, as the Spaniard passed Rossi for third into turn eight on lap two with an impressive out-braking manoeuvre, taking yards out of Rossi into the Vale chicane. It was here that Rossi’s prospective struggles became apparent, immediately dropping off the back of Rins, out of the lead fight, and further into the clutches of fourth-placed teammate Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP).

Vinales was eventually able to pass Rossi on lap seven in turn seven. But by this point he was over two seconds back of his two leading compatriots and with a lot of work to do. The bigger problem for Vinales’ victory hopes than his gap to the front was his lack of superior pace to the leading pair, who were able to keep the gap to him relatively stable throughout the majority of the remaining thirteen laps.

That meant it was a duel between Marquez and Rins. As in Austria, Marquez led for the majority of the race, showing Rins the way, showing Rins his rear tyre; where he was strong, where he was weak. Marquez knew this, and around the mid-point of the race slowed to allow Rins through. The #42, though, saw Marquez’ tactics, and the threat they posed, so allowed the #93 back through six corners after he took the lead. Rins was entirely uninterested in showing Marquez anything, knowing that the seven-times World Champion is always capable of finding more time than you expect, especially with a target to aim at.

Marc Marquez dueling with Alex Rins for the most part of the 2019 Silverstone MotoGP Race.Image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol

Rins followed Marquez from lap two until the penultimate lap, when he made a move at Aintree, which was a surprise. The Suzuki rider had been especially strong on corner entry, in the last part of the braking, so to pass in a corner with no braking zone was strange. But Marquez fought straight back, reclaiming the lead into the next corner at Brooklands.

At this point, Rins saw he had one chance left. This was strange for a penultimate lap, but Rins thought it was the final lap; he tried to ride round the outside of Marquez in Woodcote. Whilst Rins led, officially, onto the final lap, Marquez had – rightly – forced him out onto the run-off area on the outside of Woodcote. Unlike in 2014, at Brno, when Rins thought the penultimate lap was the final lap, the Spaniard did not completely roll out of the throttle on this occasion, and was able to re-engage before the first corner of the final lap. But he was never able to get close enough to make a move on the brakes.

Marquez defended very well, taking excessively tight lines and blocking the path of the flowing Suzuki, meaning Rins was not able to try to pass before the final section. He knew he had to try to out-drive Marquez and the Honda through the final corner, and when Marquez had a slide in the middle of it, he sensed his opportunity, cut to the inside and took the victory on the line by 0.013 seconds, the second MotoGP win of his career in another battle with one of the greatest of the sport’s history.

Second place for Marquez represented another final corner defeat to a rider with superior rear grip on the right side of the tyre. It also represented a twenty-point increase in his championship advantage thanks to Dovizioso’s retirement from the race, an advantage which now sits at 78 points, and an extension of his top two finishing record which stretches back to Austria 2018.

Maverick Vinales’ third place was a welcome return to the podium for the Spaniard having missed it since the summer break. The #12 was close to his compatriots at the end courtesy of them fighting in the penultimate lap and Marquez’ protective lines. In reality Vinales’ only shot at victory was an overly ambitious move from one of the front two. Perhaps to be only in a somewhat detached third place was disappointing for Yamaha, having looked like they could be with three bikes on the podium through the weekend.

Maverick Vinales ahead of Valentino Rossi at the 2019 Silverstone MotoGP race. Image courtesy of Yamaha Motor Racing Srl

Fourth place for Valentino Rossi was determined from the start, where he missed performance from the rear tyre and was unable to match the speed of the Spanish trio who finished ahead of him. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL) and Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) were eight seconds back of Rossi and split by Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team), the ex-teammates also suffering with rear tyre problems in the race which saw them lapping over one second slower than they had in practice.

Between Rossi in fourth and Crutchlow in sixth was Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who equalled his best finish of the season with fifth, completing a strong weekend in a good way, albeit thirteen seconds adrift of the win.

Behind Miller in eighth were Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who completed the top ten, good results for both factories.

Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) saw his race weekend go sour in qualifying, where he lost grip. The Italian was unable to rediscover the grip lost on Saturday afternoon and ended up fifteen seconds adrift of the top ten in eleventh place, five seconds ahead of Joan Mir’s replacement at Team Suzuki Ecstar, Sylvain Guintoli. Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) was thirteenth ahead of the returning Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) and Karel Abaham (Reale Avintia Racing) who completed.

Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) suffered a crash, but got back on to finish sixteenth ahead of fellow crasher Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) who also got back on for seventeenth, and was the final classified rider.

After Quartararo and Dovizioso were out on the first lap, Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) collided on lap nine, for which Zarco received a three-place grid penalty for the next round in Misano. The final retirement was Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) on the last lap.