In these subscriber notes:
- The dangers of motorcycle racing
- Marc Márquez' remarkable season
- Andrea Dovizioso's remarkable season
- Jack Miller rides again
- Why Danilo Petrucci is staying in factory Ducati
- What riders think of Johann Zarco
- Yamahas lacking grip, with one exception
- Joan Mir on why being a rookie at Suzuki is harder than on a Yamaha
The last race of 2019 was a demonstration of just how dangerous motorcycle racing can be (although footage from the crashes at the Macau Grand Prix puts that into some perspective). The cold, the wind, and to be frank, allowing a rider who should have been black flagged for spewing liquids all over the track on three separate occasions this week to start a race created a host of situations which could have turned out really badly. But we got lucky.
Let's start with Aron Canet. The Moto3 rider had white smoke leaking from his Sterilgarda KTM during FP1 on Friday. He had white smoke leaking from his bike on the sighting lap before the race, which caused him and then Ayumu Sasaki to crash at Turn 6, and the race to be delayed. Despite the problem with Canet's KTM, the Spaniard was allowed to start the race, and more white smoke emerged from the bike, the KTM containing a seemingly endless supply.
Whether Canet's bike caused any crashes or not (other than for Sasaki) is open to question. But there were plenty of crashes during the race, a major smash on lap 3 causing the race to be red flagged. It was one of those incidents which underline the dangers of motorcycle racing, especially when it is as close as it is in Moto3. Carlos Tatay went down in Turn 11, with a bunch of riders following him. Tatay's bike became an obstacle for the riders behind, taking down Niccolo Antonelli, Dennis Foggia, Makar Yurchenko, and Jeremy Alcoba, bikes hitting riders and riding over them. It was a miracle nobody was seriously hurt, though Foggia was taken to hospital, and is likely to be out of action for a while.
Windy and wild
Crashes continued in Moto2 and MotoGP. A combination of the cold and the wind made conditions difficult. With track temperatures of 15 and 16°C, the surface was just above the minimum of 11 or 12°C at which the Michelin rubber can generate grip properly. Add to this was a gusting wind coming from the south, giving the riders a tailwind down the straight and carrying them into Turn 1 with more speed than expected, and trying to lift the bikes at Turn 6, the highest point of the track (though that is a relative term at Valencia).
"On the sighting lap to the grid I said to the team, 'it's so windy, it's horrendous. Can't even ride'," Cal Crutchlow said. "It was really, really bad. Then in the race it was not as bad as I thought. But 6 was bad, I saw Valentino lose the front once into 6, then he started to slow down quite a bit." Joan Mir agreed. "At the end I was also struggling a bit to turn in some corners because of the wind. Turn 6 I was struggling, the wind was blowing like this, also to stop the bike a bit on the first corner," the Suzuki rider said.
Crutchlow would end up crashing out in Turn 1, a combination of high wind and pushing to catch Joan Mir in the group ahead of him. "I actually felt really good in the race and that I could close the gap to the top six," the LCR Honda rider said. "I got past Valentino after being stuck behind for quite some laps. I thought I now have to push to go across, braked a little bit late and went out onto the dirty party of the track. As soon as I was on the dirty part of the track, I was still trying to turn the bike because I didn't want to go off the track and that was it. But when I lost the front was when I finally touched the white line for the pit exit. But it was my own fault, I braked too late because I was pushing to come across."
Follow the leader
The stranger, and more dangerous crash was at Turn 6. Danilo Petrucci was the first to go down there on lap 14. He didn't understand what had caused the crash. "I don’t know," the factory Ducati rider said. "We were checking and I was slower than the lap before and a little bit less angle, so no reason to crash. but three of us crashed in the same corner, so I don’t know what’s happened really."
Petrucci's crash caused a chain reaction. Johann Zarco was the next to go, at the same place. "I saw Petrucci crash, so immediately I thought 'keep the pace and maybe you can catch Valentino'," the Frenchman said. "But just a few seconds after I was crashing also in this Turn 6. Not exactly at the same place as Petrucci but I had the crash losing the front, so I maybe lost a little bit of focus in that moment or maybe the conditions were a bit difficult. Also I am still not able to bring the bike in the good way as I would like and should on this Honda bike. So I crashed."
Zarco was so angry with himself about losing the chance of a good finish and bolstering his case to stay in MotoGP that he stopped paying attention and turned his back on the track while standing in the gravel trap. That very nearly turned out very nastily, as Tech3 rookie Iker Lecuona was the next rider to follow Petrucci and Zarco into the dirt at Turn 6.
"If I'm honest, I don't know what happened in the crash," Lecuona said. "I know two riders crashed in the same lap at the same point as me, and same like me. So I don't know why I crashed, I didn't brake any later, I didn't push more, but I crashed. For sure, it's very strange to see three crashes very similar or the same, maybe the temperature is a possible cause, maybe the Moto3 race, where Canet lost all the oil, so maybe a little bit of oil with this cold temperature, it's possible to have this crash for three riders. But I don't know."
Wilco Zeelenberg had his own view of events, watching from the pits. "It's pretty cold, and the temperature is dropping a bit, but I think that the three guys who crashed in Turn 6 were all surprised by each other," the Petronas Yamaha team boss told me. "That was a bit strange, because everyone else stayed upright."
If Zarco was worried that his crash had ended his chances of a ride in MotoGP, his inattention could could have ended his career altogether. When Lecuona crashed, his bike slid on its side through the gravel, making a beeline for Zarco as he stood lamenting his crash. The KTM RC16 swiped Zarco's legs out from underneath him, flipping him around. It was reminiscent of the crash at Silverstone in 2018, when Tito Rabat was hit by Franco Morbidelli's bike, smashing Rabat's femur. Rabat took a very long time to recover from that injury, which had a huge impact on his career.
Zarco acknowledged it was his own mistake for standing there after his own crash. "I was so disappointed because I was feeling that I have lost the race, and I have lost the last race I can do at the moment in MotoGP. So I was so sad about this situation, looking for the bike to see if maybe I can go again. I was still far from my bike. But the sad feeling didn't stay for long because I didn't check behind, I was walking to my bike and Lecuona's bike totally took me away and this was a big surprise."
He was lucky not to have suffered a very serious injury. "It was a really hard shock and immediately the left ankle felt strange so I could not move it, and in the way it took me I was sure something is broken," Zarco said. The bones appear to be intact, but he may have some ligament damage. "I needed time to maybe stand and see if it feels better and now it looks like the bones are all okay. Nothing broken. But the ligaments are maybe not good. I will have an echo scan tomorrow I think."
The year in miniature
In many ways, the final round of MotoGP was a reflection of the way the 2019 season played out. Marc Márquez didn't get a great start, but managed to make his way forward to sit behind Fabio Quartararo and wait for the right moment to pounce. That moment proved to be lap 8, and though he could not open a gap immediately, he eventually broke Fabio Quartararo's resistance. Márquez won the Valencia race by a comfortable margin, exactly as he had won the championship.
It is worth reflecting on just how good Márquez has been this year. 12 wins, 6 second places, 1 DNF from 19 races. 420 points, a record, even discounting the fact that there were 19 races this season. Márquez won the riders and constructors championships all on his own, and the Repsol Honda team won the team championship contributing all but 38 of the 458 points he need to win it.
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