The 2020 MotoGP World Championship title race took a decisive swing last Sunday afternoon at the Gran Premio de Europa. A ninth winner rose to the fore and it was in the form of title race leader Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) as he bagged an absolutely monumental 25-point haul to place one hand on the coveted trophy. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) crossed the line second to hand Suzuki their first 1-2 since the 1982 German GP as Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) picked up a fantastic rostrum in P3. A Lap 1 crash for Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) saw the Frenchman eventually take P14 as Mir now holds a 37 point advantage with just two races to go.
The red lights came on and then went out and the premier class riders roared away from the line in Valencia. Both Rins and Pol Espargaro launched well from P1 and P2 and the two Spaniards led into Turn 1. Mir got away well from the second row and was up to P4, just behind Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu). Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) made a rapid start and was up into the top five, Quartararo was up to P8 from P11 but the Frenchman’s opening lap wouldn’t go to plan at all.
Heading into Turn 8 at the end of the back straight, Quartararo and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) slid into the gravel. No contact between the two, it was two separate incidents, but it was monumental for the Championship. Luckily for Quartararo, he was able to pick the bike up and get running again but El Diablo re-joined behind Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). Right from the word go, the tension was palpable in Valencia and the title race took yet another crazy turn.
Pol Espargaro led the first one and a half laps, before Rins pounced at Turn 11. The Suzuki slotted through to take the lead and a couple of laps later, Mir – who had passed Nakagami on the opening lap – copy and pasted his teammate’s move on the KTM man. Now, it was a GSX-RR one-two at the front, Oliveira was now also past Nakagami as two KTMs chased the Suzukis.
More drama then followed for Yamaha. On Lap 5, Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) stopped on track at Turn 5 and The Doctor’s return from Covid-19 was over after just a handful of laps. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) then crashed unhurt and this meant Viñales was now 15th and in the point scoring positions with 20 laps to go.
At the front, it was line astern. An intriguing battle was raging as Rins led teammate Mir, with Pol Espargaro and his 2021 factory KTM successor Oliveira was in the shadows, with Nakagami and Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) in close pursuit. After a slow start, Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) was regrouping and was chasing Zarco in P7 with 16 laps to go. There was a long way to go and Pol Espargaro wasn’t allowing the two Suzukis to pull clear, with another Yamaha seemingly in trouble: Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT). The Italian was now P10 and lapping slower than the riders in front of him, disaster for Yamaha in the Championship, dreamland for Suzuki.
With 15 to go, there was nothing to choose between the Suzuki pairing. Lap after lap, Rins and Mir were exchanging 1:32.1s while Morbidelli lapped in the 1:33s. At this stage, a Rins and Mir 1-2 would see the two Suzuki riders lead the Championship – just another ingredient to make the battle at the front even more fascinating and gripping. But it wasn’t just between the silver and blue bullets, an orange RC16 was keeping tabs on the top two as Pol Espargaro – as he promised – was going all in.
With 13 to go, Tito Rabat (Esponsorama Racing) pulled into the pits to hand Quartararo 15th place. Every single point counted and who knows how important a P14 and P15 might be for Viñales and Quartararo. On Lap 15 of 27, Mir was visibly closer to his teammate’s tailpipes but a move wasn’t coming yet. A little further down the road, Nakagami made a move at Turn 14 on Oliveira to grab P4, the Japanese rider was 1.9 seconds behind Pol Espargaro’s rear wheel, Zarco and Miller were waiting in the wings behind Oliveira.
With 12 to go, a hint of big move came from Mir in the Suzuki chess match. The number 36 thought about it heading into Turn 14, and it happened soon after. Mir, at Turn 11, swept through on Rins and now it was game on with 11 to go! Replays showed Rins was wide though as the baton was now in Mir’s grasp – what could he do from here? As things stood with 10 laps to go, Mir would take a 37-point lead into the final two races. Huge.
Mir was asking big questions of Rins, he stuck his fastest lap of the race in but the number 42 and Mir was pushing – the fastest lap of the race went the way of the Championship leader, a 1:31.955. Absolute quality from the 2017 Moto3™ World Champion on Lap 19. This was incredibly tense with seven laps to go, Mir’s lead crept over half a second and while the Spaniard was strutting his stuff in P1, Dovizioso was 9th, Morbidelli was 11th, Viñales was 14th and Quartararo was clinging onto a point in 15th.
Another 1:31.9 was hit for six and with five laps to go, Mir owned a one second lead. Further back, after a long-lap penalty, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) set the fastest lap of the race in P10 and the South African was hunting Dovizioso and Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) down before the latter then crashed at Turn 1 with four laps to go after being passed by Dovizioso – rider ok.
Race leader Mir had now stretched his lead up to 1.3 seconds, with Rins still getting hounded by Pol Espargaro, with Nakagami lurking just behind as his traditional late-race pace started coming to the fore. Suzuki Team Manager Davide Brivio couldn’t watch as Mir crossed the line to start his penultimate lap, his advantage almost one and a half seconds and starting the final lap of the race, Mir was 1.4 seconds up the road. 4km stood in the way of Mir and a historic maiden MotoGP™ win, Rins had work to do to keep Pol Espargaro at bay.
Mir made no mistake. It was a magical performance from the MotoGP™ sophomore and this win now hands Mir a wonderful lead in the Championship. Next weekend at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, we have every chance of a new World Champion being crowned on Sunday. Rins took a hard-earned P2 just six tenths from victory and it’s a result that draws him level with Quartararo in the overall standings, and it’s a 1-2 that sees Suzuki now lead the Constructor, Team and Rider Championships – the triple crown is in sight.
Pol Espargaro produced a stunning ride to keep the Suzukis within touching distance, it’s a fourth podium of 2020 for the Spaniard who is now just nine points down on Dovizioso in the Championship. Nakagami banished the Aragon demons with a great ride to P4, less than a second away from a first premier class podium – surely that will come soon for the Japanese rider.
Oliveira slipped back into the grasp of Miller, the Portuguese rider just getting the better of the Australian for P5, Miller settled for P6 after dropping outside the top 10 on the opening lap. Binder salvaged a superb P7 despite a long-lap penalty, the South African regains the advantage in the battle for Rookie of the Year honours after Marquez’ tumble. Dovizioso lost more ground in the title race after a P8 finish, the Italian beat fellow Ducati rider Zarco by 0.7 seconds after the Frenchman’s pace dropped off a cliff in the latter stages.
Morbidelli’s Sunday was a contrasting one to his Teruel heroics. A P11 for the Italian sees him drop to 45 points behind Mir in the title race, a hugely damaging day for Morbidelli and a hugely damaging weekend on the whole for Yamaha. Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) crossed the line 12th, another good ride from the HRC test rider who beats Viñales to the flag by just over a second. Starting from pitlane after his engine penalty, there wasn’t much more the Spaniard could do as his disastrous weekend comes to a close.
Quartararo was left distraught after he took the flag in P14, his opening lap crash sees his title chances take a shocking dent and with just 50 points left on the board, the 21-year-old is now 37 points down on Mir.
Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) crashed out, riders ok.
Wow. That’s now nine winners in 12 races as 2020 just keeps on giving. Valencia hosts the penultimate round in a week’s time and it’s Mir first match point, can the now MotoGP™ race winner pick up his second World Championship title? Who knows, but it’s very likely.
Top 10: 1. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) 2. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.651 3. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 1.203 4. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) + 2.194 5. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) + 8.046 6. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) + 8.755 7. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 10.137 8. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) + 10.801 9. Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) + 11.550 10. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) + 16.803
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