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2020 – The Year Of The Satellite

Miguel Oliveira on the Tech3 KTM at Portimao 2020

The final podium of the Covid-19 compressed 2020 MotoGP season neatly encapsulated so many parts of this strange and fascinating year. On the top step stood Miguel Oliveira, his second victory in a breakthrough year for both him and KTM. Beside him stood Jack Miller, the Ducati rider taking his second podium in a row. And on the third step stood Franco Morbidelli, arguably the strongest rider of 2020, outperforming the 2020 Yamahas on a 2019 M1.

The podium was emblematic in another way, too. All three riders were racing for satellite teams: Oliveira for the Red Bull KTM Tech3 team, Miller for Pramac Ducati, and Morbidelli for the Petronas Yamaha SRT squad. Furthermore, Morbidelli's third place finish wrapped up second spot in the MotoGP team championship for Petronas Yamaha, behind the factory Suzuki Ecstar squad and ahead of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team.

It was the first time since Qatar in 2004 that the podium had consisted solely of riders in satellite teams. The 2004 race was won by Sete Gibernau, who finished ahead of his Gresini Honda teammate Colin Edwards. Ruben Xaus was third across the line, nearly 24 seconds back, riding a D'Antin Ducati. Xaus finished ahead of the two factory Repsol Hondas, Alex Barros crossing the line 6 seconds before Nicky Hayden.

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Takaaki Nakagami Interview: On Learning From Marc Marquez, Competing For Podiums, And Honda's Holeshot Device

Takaaki Nakagami with crew chief Giacomo Guidotti at Aragon 2 - 2020

2020 was a transformative year for Takaaki Nakagami. His results in his first two seasons in MotoGP had been rather modest, to put it mildly. The LCR Honda rider had looked very much like the token Japanese representative in MotoGP he was suspected of being, a sop to appease Honda, who have long wanted to field a Japanese rider in the premier class.

That all changed in 2020. Nakagami went from being an also-ran to being a constant podium contender, scoring his first pole and front row starts, and matching or beating his best result on four occasions. He was very fast in practice, both over a single lap and in terms of race pace. His zenith came at Aragon 2, where he grabbed pole and led the race for the first few corners, before crashing out.

What brought about this change? After a mediocre first race in Jerez, Nakagami spent a lot of time studying the data of Marc Márquez, and tried to adapt the six-time MotoGP champion's riding style to his own. That proved to be a huge step forward for the LCR Honda rider, and Nakagami ended the season as a serious threat in every race.

After speaking to journalists throughout the year in English, his second language, Nakagami finally gave an interview in his native Japanese to esteemed Japanese journalist Akira Nishimura. In the interview, Nakagami opens up on how he changed his riding style to be more competitive, on how he learned to handle the Honda RC213V, and what HRC did to improve the performance of the bike, including introducing the holeshot device and a shapeshifter.

So here, with Nishimura-san's excellent translation into English, is Takaaki Nakagami in his own words.

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Valencia MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: Battles On A Tight Track, And Comparing The 2019 And 2020 Yamahas

The Valencia round of MotoGP is going to be remembered primarily as the race where Joan Mir make history, becoming the sixth Suzuki rider to win the premier class title, following in the footsteps of Kenny Roberts Jr, Kevin Schwantz, Franco Uncini, Marco Lucchinelli, and Barry Sheene. Rightly so, given the significance of that title, and Mir's path to winning the title. You can read more about that in part one of my Valencia round up.

But there was more to Valencia than just Joan Mir clinching the championship. The Circuit Ricardo Tormo is supposed to be a hard track to pass at, yet in all three classes we saw last-lap battles where the lead and podium places changed hands multiple times. We saw the 2019 Yamaha triumph where the 2020 model came up a long way short. We saw KTM take three of the top six positions, and we saw Andrea Dovizioso surprise himself with an eighth place.

So here are some notes from an intriguing and exciting race weekend.

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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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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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The Irony Behind Yamaha's Punishment For Using An Illegal Engine Spec At Jerez

Yamaha have been punished for an infringement of the MotoGP technical rules at the opening race of the 2020 MotoGP season at Jerez, and at the same time, their riders have dodged a bullet. After the infringement was finally uncovered, the FIM Stewards decided to deduct points from Yamaha in the manufacturers championship, and the Monster Energy Yamaha and Petronas Yamaha SRT teams have had points taken away in the teams championship. But crucially for the 2020 MotoGP riders championship, no penalty was given to Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, or Franco Morbidelli. That means that the standings in what everyone regards as the most important championship, the riders championship, are unchanged.

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Teruel MotoGP Subscriber Notes Part 2: The Strangeness Of Who Gains, KTM's Progress, And Yamaha's Engine Situation

It being 2020, last weekend's Teruel round of MotoGP at the Motorland Aragon circuit threw up plenty of surprises, more than can be covered in just a single article. In Monday's subscriber notes, I covered the early crashers, Takaaki Nakagami's lead lasting just five corners, Franco Morbidelli's perfect race, why Alex Rins and Joan Mir came up short, and whether it matters if Mir doesn't win a race this season, the odd fortunes of the Yamahas in 2020, and Andrea Dovizioso as best of the Ducatis.

But there is more to cover. It is worth taking a look at who made the biggest gains between Aragon 1 and Aragon 2, how KTM went from nowhere to nearly on the podium, and the mystery of Yamaha's engine situation.

First, a comparison of how the riders fared between the Aragon and Teruel rounds at Motorland Aragon. In theory, you might believe that being at the same track would mean there would be little to no difference. But as previous back-to-back races at the same circuit has shown, this is very much not the case. Results have varied massively from week to week, as some riders have improved, others have stood still.

Faster second time around

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