Sports Monks

Maximum attack: Morbidelli puts on a masterclass at MotorLand

A faultless Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) didn’t put a foot wrong for a formidable second victory of 2020 at the Gran Premio Liqui Moly de Teruel, no one able to stay with the Italian as he also put himself right back in the title fight. Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins took second place to make it back-to-back podiums, with teammate Joan Mir picking up another P3 at MotorLand to extend his Championship lead in yet another dramatic premier class race…

That drama began right from the off on Lap 1. Polesitter Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) got the launch he would have been hoping for and led into Turn 1, just holding off fellow front row starters Morbidelli and Rins. At Turn 2 the first disaster struck as both Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) tumbled into the gravel after the South African tagged the back of the Australian and then, at Turn 5, race leader Nakagami made his first and only race day mistake of the season. The Japanese rider lost the front and was down, sliding out of the race in heartbreaking fashion – no dream podium or victory today for the number 30.

That left Morbidelli leading, closely followed by Rins, with Mir the other key player on the move as the Spaniard made a glorious start from P12, up to fifth on the opening lap and ahead of closest rival Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), who had a tougher opening few opening laps. It was opposite fortunes for compatriot Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing), though, as he was up to P3 and holding off Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Mir.

Quartararo then began slipping into the clutches of Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) and Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Marquez able to escape both to then set the fastest lap of the race on Lap 4; the reigning Moto2™ World Champion latching onto the back of Mir. Up front though, Morbidelli then set a 1:48.089 to take the race lap record at MotorLand, he and Rins a second up the road from third place Zarco on Lap 6. Mir was on the move though, slicing past Viñales at Turn 12, and Marquez wasted no time in following suit, putting in a classy move at Turn 15. The Mir-Marquez duo had their sights firmly set on Zarco up ahead…

Quartararo, meanwhile, was in a serious battle mid-top ten. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), Crutchlow, Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech3) were all line astern behind ‘El Diablo’, and things started to get spicy. Soon enough, that was also true up ahead.

The gap between Rins and Zarco was still hovering around the 1.7 second mark, with Mir and Marquez shadowing the fastest Ducati on track. But eventually, Mir pounced on Zarco at Turn 4 as the gap between the leading duo and Mir hovered at 2.2 seconds. Marquez then didn’t take long to follow as he took that incredible inside line round the double left hander at the end of the lap, but Zarco fought back at Turn 1. Marquez was back underneath the Ducati at Turn 4 and the small squabble cost the number 73 time, although Mir was making no real dent into the lead held by Morbidelli and Rins.

The fight behind, meanwhile, had seen Quartararo drop down to P8 as Pol Espargaro diced up the inside at Turn 1, and Viñales was just a few tenths ahead. Oliveira was then climbing all over the back of Quartararo but the latter was strong on the brakes at the end of the back straight. As the battle raged on, Oliveira briefly got through on Quartararo but the Yamaha was back through at Turn 1 as Crutchlow and Dovizioso waited to pick up any pieces. Pol Espargaro was making progress nearer the front of the group as he got ahead of Viñales, and every single point and position counted. The next drama would come from further up the road though, as the second Honda heartbreak of the day hit.

Suddenly at Turn 2, the dream of a third MotoGP™ podium in a row evaporated as Alex Marquez slid out. Rider ok, but left wondering what could have been as Mir disappeared into the distance.

At the front, Morbidelli’s lead over Rins was 0.6 seconds and holding more than firm, with Mir 2.6 seconds behind with nine laps to go. Zarco had been shuffled down to P4, but he was still ahead of Pol Espargaro, Viñales and Quartararo as the latter two sat sixth and seventh heading into the closing stages. Quartararo was still fending off Oliveira too, and Dovizioso was lurking. The Portuguese rider then made his move and it stuck, with Dovi then right behind Quartararo…

Next though, Aleix Espargaro made his presence felt and, after getting so close to making some more gains in the Championship, Dovizioso was on the receiving end of an aggressive move from the Aprilia at Turn 1. The number 04 then ran in too hot at Turn 8 and suddenly, the Italian was down to P12 after crossing the line last time round in eighth.

Viñales and Quartararo were next under threat, however. Oliveira grabbed P6 at the final corner to demote Viñales to seventh, and soon enough joined the battle for fourth between Pol Espargaro and Zarco. Esparagaro climbed to P4 and Oliveira was soon through too, but Zarco wasn’t giving it up that easy, the Ducati man fighting straight back at Turn 13.

Up ahead, it couldn’t have been less chaotic for Morbidelli. From half a second to a second and a half to nearly two and still climbing, the Italian was on rails as the gap kept extending. Rins was well clear of teammate Mir as well as the Championship leader was forced to settle for a lonely third, and all three held firm on the final lap. Morbidelli completed his masterclass with more than two seconds in hand, becoming the second repeat winner of the season – and climbing to within a race win of the top in the Championship.

Rins takes 45 points from 50 in Aragon as both he and Morbidelli bring themselves right into the title frame, facing a deficit but far from out of it. Two P3s at MotorLand see Mir extend his World Championship lead with three races to go, however, with 14 points now his advantage over Quartararo.

Pol Espargaro picked up a great P4 from ninth on the grid, another solid ride and some better luck at MotorLand this time around. Just behind the number 44, Zarco vs Oliveira went right down to the wire and in the end, the Ducati eventually pipped the KTM by just 0.038, Oliveira forced to settle for a nevertheless impressive sixth.

Then came Viñales and Quartararo, the Yamaha title contenders finishing P7 and P8 as they slip further away from Mir after a tougher race weekend than expected. Lecuona secured his third top 10 of the year in P9, as Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) rounded out the top 10. Crutchlow and Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) finished P11 and P12, ahead of Dovizioso after his tough race at the office.

Tito Rabat (Esponsorama Racing) and Bradley Smith (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) were the only other two riders to finish, the duo pick up P14 and P15 respectively. Aleix Espargaro was on for a top 10 but his RS-GP suffered an issue with a couple of laps remaining.

That’s a wrap in Teruel. The 2020 title race just keeps on twisting and turning and now, 32 points split the top SIX with three races to go. Mir, Quartararo, Viñales, Morbidelli, Dovizioso and Rins will all fancy their chances still heading into two Valencia races and the Portimao finale. Who will win the 2020 MotoGP™ World Championship? Mir leads the field by 14 points, but that can change in the blink of an eye. It’s game on in 2020, and Valencia is up next!

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