Analysis

Valencia MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 1: The Meaning Of Joan Mir's Championship

So it turns out somebody does want to win this thing after all. After a wild, wild ride through the 2020 MotoGP season – scratch that, through all of 2020 – Joan Mir has finally been crowned champion. And he did it in the most Joan Mir way possible: not with an extravagant flourish, or with all-out aggression risking everything, but by understanding what was needed, riding to the limits on the day, and seizing the prize when it was offered. This was a title won with the head, with generous measure of guts and heart thrown into the mix.

There's an old cliche about swans, gliding gracefully and calmly across the water while paddling like fury below it. That was how the Suzuki rider came into the second weekend at Valencia, the race where he had the title within reach. Outwardly projecting calm, he had the turmoil of nerves to deal with underneath. Try as he might, Mir could not prevent that tension from breaking through to the surface.

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Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Pressure Of The Championship Is Starting To Count

It was supposed to be a steady, stable weekend with consistent weather for all three days of the Valencia MotoGP round. But it's 2020, so of course, that didn't happen. After a solid day of dry weather on Friday, conditions turned on Saturday. Not by a lot, but just enough to render chasing a quick time in practice and qualifying a treacherous business, with light rain coming and going throughout.

After the track dried in FP3, it never really rained hard enough to need wet tires. But there was just enough rain at times to make grip supremely treacherous, and to force riders to take bigger risks than they might have wanted. Alex Márquez paid the heaviest price, pushing hard in Q1 after rain had started to fall, the rear coming round on him and snapping back to highside him to what looked like low earth orbit.

It turned out to be a lucky escape for Márquez, the Repsol Honda rider escaping with a painful tailbone and a badly bruised bone in his left hand. His injuries were severe enough that his participation in the race tomorrow is to be assessed during warm up on Sunday morning.

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Valencia MotoGP Friday Round Up: Nerves Fray As The Title Chase Gets Closer, And KTM Work On A Shapeshifter

"Well, for sure I think we are not the fastest, but it's only Friday." A common enough refrain after FP2, with another day of practice and qualifying to go before the race on Sunday. But when it is championship leader Joan Mir saying it, on the weekend he could wrap up the title, is it a sign of trouble?

So far, Mir has been remarkably calm and composed under pressure. He has impressed even nine-time world champion and MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi. "Nobody bet on Mir at the beginning of the season, but already in the last races of last season he did a big improvement and also in the winter test he was strong," Rossi told us on Friday evening. "For me he's very mature, it's like he has more experience considering he is a very young rider and it's just the second year in MotoGP and also he did just one season in Moto2. So he's an unbelievable talent, I think. Nobody expected that he can win the championship this year. But I think that if he will win he deserves it 100% because he was the more constant, that this year is very important."

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Valencia MotoGP Thursday Round Up: The Marquez-Dovizioso-Crutchlow-Iannone Mad News Week

It is Groundhog day one last time. The last of the back-to-back races at the same tracks beckons, the riders returning to the scene of last week's triumphs and tragedies. Will we see a repeat of last week? Will there be another Suzuki Ecstar 1-2? Will the KTMs be at the front again? Will Ducati have another worrying weekend? Does Yamaha face disaster again?

The weekend certainly kicked off with a repeat performance of Valentino Rossi's Covid-19 saga. Last Thursday, news started to leak that Valentino Rossi had failed a Covid-19 test, and would not be able to travel to Valencia for the European round of MotoGP. In the end, he had two positive tests 24 hours apart and missed only the Friday sessions, taking to the track on Saturday morning for FP3. That gave American rider Garrett Gerloff his time in the sun, or rather, the rain, the spray, and the sun, the weather wreaking havoc last weekend.

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Europe Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On Arenas' Temper, Bezzecchi's Return, Gardner Keeping His Cool, And A Lacklustre Luthi

MotoGP may have moved definitively toward one contender taking the crown. But a three-way title fight in Moto2 became four thanks to a surprise crash for leader Sam Lowes. And Any feeling 2020 was inching decisively in favour of Moto3 challenger Albert Arenas took just two laps to come apart. Here are a number of the big stories from the junior classes at the European Grand Prix.

Arenas loses his cool

Perhaps with the passing of time the Moto3 contest will be remembered for Raul Fernandez’s long-awaited first grand prix win. But it was Albert Arenas’ all-action showing that really caught the eye. Unfortunate in the extreme to get hit from behind when avoiding Celestino Vietti’s stricken KTM, the championship leader was forced into the pits with a snapped footrest bracket.

That should have been the end of his morning. But Arenas wasn’t finished. “I went into the garage pissed off, but the team tried to calm me,” he said. The team succeeded in mending the machine, but failed to defuse the rider. Rejoining in 30th place and three laps down, the Spaniard let the leading men by when shown the blue flags. But then came the madness. The 23-year old inexplicably started passing the riders in the fight for the second, including a ludicrous lunge on title rival Ai Ogura at the final turn – enough for Race Direction to show him the black flag.

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Europe MotoGP Subscriber Notes: A Champion In Waiting, A Base Setting, And Why Yamaha Isn't As Bad As You Think

For most of the 2020 Grand Prix season, nobody has wanted to win a championship. Every time someone has taken a lead at one race, they have found ever more creative ways to throw it away at the next. Fabio Quartararo got off to a lightning start, winning the first two races of the season. Then he let his lead slip away, Andrea Dovizioso making inroads into the Petronas Yamaha rider's advantage.

Behind the leaders, Maverick Viñales made a strong charge, then faded away, then came back again with a win at Misano 2. Jack Miller started off strong, had a DNF, then a run of good results and another DNF and has been up and down (literally, in a couple of cases) ever since. Takaaki Nakagami closed in relentlessly by finishing inside the top ten every race, until he crashed out of the lead at Aragon 2.

It was hard to see who was in the driving seat of the championship. Quartararo took back the lead at Barcelona, but hasn't finished any better than eighth since then. Dovizioso has slowly slipped further out of reach, while Maverick Viñales has barely stayed in touch with the top of the championship. Franco Morbidelli has won two races to close the gap, but had some poor finishes and a DNF as well.

Throwing it away

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Europe MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Working With No Data, Mir's Mind Games, And KTM's Testing Advantage

What is the point of free practice? It is to prepare bike, rider, and team (not necessarily in that order) for Sunday's race. On a good weekend, you spend Friday testing your base setup and getting an idea of which tires to use. On Saturday, you refine the setup and check how your preferred tire lasts over something approaching race distance. In warm up on Sunday morning, you might try a final tweak in search of more tire life or a fraction more performance.

The goal of all this is simple: to arrive on the grid on Sunday afternoon with the best possible setup. To eliminate as many unknowns as possible, and provide the rider with the sharpest possible weapon with which to do battle. From that point on, it is up to the rider.

That's the theory. In practice, of course, it rarely runs quite that smoothly. There is always something cropping up that makes the whole process a good deal more complicated than anyone hoped, unexpected obstacles to be overcome along the way.

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Europe MotoGP Friday Round Up: Yamaha's Very Bad, Terrible, Horrible Weekend

It has been such a bad day for Yamaha that I feel bound to start this report off with the highlight for the Japanese factory: Franco Morbidelli finished in the top three for both sessions of free practice on Friday at Valencia. He and Petronas teammate Fabio Quartararo are directly through to Q2, at least provisionally, dependent on the weather on Saturday morning. Garrett Gerloff, replacing Valentino Rossi in the Monster Energy Yamaha team on Friday, was very impressive, getting up to speed quickly in very difficult conditions, despite not having any experience of either MotoGP bikes, Michelin MotoGP tires, or the Ricardo Tormo Circuit at Valencia. And Valentino Rossi's second PCR test came back negative, meaning he can take over from Gerloff again from Saturday morning.

That was the good news. The bad news was pretty terrible, however, bad enough that it made even a cynical old hack like me feel sorry for Yamaha's PR staff. After yesterday's penalty for violating the engine homologation procedure, the reliability issues resulting from trying to race an entire season using just 40% of the original engine allocation, two engines out of five, finally caught up with Maverick Viñales. The Monster Energy Yamaha rider, currently 19 points down on championship leader Joan Mir, has been forced to use a sixth engine during practice, incurring penalty for infringing the engine durability rules. On Sunday, Viñales will have to start the Grand Prix of Europe at Valencia from pit lane.

As if that were not bad enough, later this afternoon we learned that a key member of Viñales' crew had tested positive for Covid-19, and was forced to self isolate. Four other members of the Monster Energy Yamaha team, including team manager Maio Meregalli, were determined to have been at risk after contact with the infected team member, and although they tested negative, have also gone into quarantine for ten days until Monday, November 16th, the day after the second round at Valencia.

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Europe MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Life Inside The Bubble In The Final Stretch

We are entering the final stretch of The Year That Went On Forever. It turns out that compressing an intense, 14-race season into the space of 19 weekends feels more like five years than five months. Speak to people inside the paddock, or even speak casually to a rider, and they will tell you how mentally draining it is. Stuck in the Covid-19 bubble, wary of venturing out for fear of becoming infected.

That was what happened to Jorge Martin and Valentino Rossi, and they paid a heavy price. Both missed two races, and it looked like Rossi would miss a third, when he tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday. Fortunately for him, a test on Thursday came back negative, so he is on his way to Valencia. If he has another test come back negative on Friday, he will be able to race this weekend.

You don't even have to have the virus yourself to be forced to miss races. Tony Arbolino missed Aragon after he sat too close to a person with Covid-19 on a plane back from Le Mans. And now Iker Lecuona will miss Valencia because his brother, who is also his assistant, tested positive in Andorra.

Fear and loathing

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News Round Up: Whither 2020, A Possible 2021 Calendar, And Dovizioso And Lorenzo As Test Riders

The last intense three weeks of this intense MotoGP season is upon us. On Thursday, the diminished paddock reassembles in Valencia for the last of the back-to-back races, with the Grand Prix of Europe this coming weekend, the Valencia Grand Prix a week later. Then, two weeks from today, the paddock will pack up and head down to Portimao, for the last race of the 2020 season. If all goes well, of course.

There is a slightly revised schedule for the two weekends at Valencia, practice starting an hour later in the mornings, 20 minutes later in the afternoons, to avoid the chilly conditions which can prevail at Valencia for FP1 and FP3. And while Sundays are the usual format at Valencia – Moto3 at 11am CET, Moto2 at 12:20, and MotoGP at 2pm – the final weekend at Portimao is a little different. To keep the MotoGP race in its usual 2pm Central European Time slot, the race will be held at 1pm local time in Portugal, which uses GMT. That means MotoGP will be racing before Moto2 in Portugal.

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