Italian unstoppable ahead of Rins and an incredible first podium for Pol Espargaro and KTM
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) claimed the final MotoGP™ victory of 2018 at the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana, finishing ahead of an on-form Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and a stunning result for Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) as the Spaniard took his first premier class podium and the first for KTM in MotoGP™. The dramatic race was red-flagged and restarted in heavy rain at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, and saw a large number of riders fall foul of the tough conditions – not least reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Movistar Yamaha MotoGP duo Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi. But the show had to go on – delay notwithstanding – and go on it did.
On the original start, Rins had destroyed the field to gain a huge lead after only a couple of corners, and the rain was falling but not heavy. The conditions remained difficult, however, and a good few big names – including some wet specialists – found themselves sliding out. They included a highside that skittled Marquez into the gravel from podium contention, and a high-speed tumble for Viñales after a good initial getaway. Pol Espargaro crashed out of P4 at Turn 3 after a stunning start, but he was incredibly able to re-join. Brother Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing), teammate Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) and Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) also all crashed out and couldn’t get back in it, but Rossi? At that stage, he was only getting faster as the rain was getting worse.
Eventually, however, the volume of rain was starting to beat the circuit’s ability to drain and the Red Flag came out. The race would be re-started for 14 laps, and the grid would be decided by the standings as of the last completed lap – meaning it was Rins on pole, Dovizioso second, Rossi third and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) lining up fourth in his final race. 14 laps and the end of an era for many…
The front row held station as the lights went out for ‘Race 2’ and all 16 riders safely negotiated the opening exchanges, with Rins leading. However, Dovizioso was once again able to get the power down on his GP18 to slice past Rins heading onto lap 2 – with Rossi in close pursuit. The three leaders quickly gapped fourth place Espargaro by 2.9 seconds, and Pedrosa tucked in behind the KTM in P5.
By then, the rain was starting to fall once again and conditions were still incredibly tough. Nevertheless, the leading trio were all lapping in the low 1:43s – two seconds quicker than anyone else as it soon became a three horse race for the final win of 2018.
On Lap 6, Dovizioso then pulled the pin to create a one-second gap back to Rins – a 1:49.921 creating that gap, with 1.5 seconds then splitting the trio. Another fastest lap soon followed for Dovi, as Rossi made his move past Rins at Turn 4 – 1.5 down on ‘DesmoDovi’. However, with six to go, the gap was up to 2.4 and a lap later, the Ducati rider’s lead was over three seconds. But then, the drama hit again and ‘The Doctor’ was down at Turn 12 – rider ok, but lifting Espargaro and KTM up to a podium place.
As the last lap began, Dovizioso’s advantage was four seconds to Rins as both safely waded their way to the finish line – the Italian taking his first win since Misano and Rins grabbing a fifth podium of the year to claim P5 in the Championship. Then, emotional scenes followed as Espargaro kept Michele Pirro (Ducati Team) at bay to take both his and KTM’s maiden MotoGP™ podium – phenomenal from rider and factory alike after the number 44 rider had crashed earlier, remounted and dueled both Repsol Hondas. After a difficult season for the Austrian marque with injury struggles, it made for an incredible dose of oxygen, so said Espargaro.
Behind him and Pirro came the new MotoGP™ Legend: Pedrosa. The ‘Little Samurai’ took home a hard-earned P5 from his farewell Grand Prix ride on home soil as he helped Repsol Honda secure the triple crown. Behind the three-time Champion was fellow Honda rider Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), the Japanese rookie taking home a career-best P6 as top Independent Team rider in the race, with Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) taking the overall 2018 Independent Team rider honours after crossing the line in P7. The Frenchman held off Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), who grabbed his best KTM result on his final ride for the team.
Replacement rider Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda Castrol) crossed the line in P9, with Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) rounding out the top ten – a great ride, but not quite enough to beat Morbidelli to ‘Rookie of the Year’. On his final Grand Prix appearance, Scott Redding (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) claimed a season-best P11, with Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) bringing his Ducati career to an end with a tough P12 on the comeback from injury. Rossi remounted to ride to P13 and P3 in the Championship is the nine-time World Champion’s, with Karel Abraham (Angel Nieto Team) and Jordi Torres (Reale Avintia Racing) claiming the final point-scoring positions. Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team) crashed out of his final Grand Prix race with seven to go – rider ok.
With that, the curtain comes down after another sensational end to the 2018 MotoGP™ World Championship – and another magnificent season draws to a close. There’s not long to wait before 2019 begins, however, as engines fire up for testing – and 2019 – on Tuesday.
MotoGP Race Results: 1. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA) DUCATI 24’03.408 2. Alex Rins (SPA) SUZUKI +2.750 3. Pol Espargaro (SPA) KTM +7.406
First Independent Team Rider: 6. Takaaki Nakagami (JPN) HONDA +32.288
Moto2™: Oliveira wins a dramatic Moto2™ season finale
In his 50th Moto2™ race, Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) produced a faultless ride to take his third victory of the season in the 2018 finale at the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana. The Portuguese rider won by an impressive 13 second margin over first-time podium finisher Iker Lecuona (Swiss Innovative Investors), as Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) completed the podium – despite crashing out the lead.
Straight away in the last race of the season, drama. Before the race had begun, Fabio Quartararo (HDR Heidrun – Speed Up) had an issue on the grid which saw him start from the back. Then, just after the lights went out, poleman Luca Marini’s (Sky Racing Team VR46) front end washed away under braking at Turn 2; the Italian hitting the back of teammate Francesco Bagnaia – the latter staying on but running wide – while further back, the exact same happened to Joan Mir (EG 0,0 Marc VDS). The Spaniard went down, with Mir himself then collecting Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40) as the pair followed Marini into the gravel and out of the race.
After a busy opening handful of laps, we were then eventiually left with Oliveira at the front and the top four consisting the Portuguese rider, Marquez, Xavi Vierge (Dynavolt Intact GP) and Lecuona in a class of their own – the only riders lapping in the 1:48s. It was Marquez who soon took over the baton at the front though, and the Spaniard then upped the pace, putting in consecutive fastest laps in the 1:47s to give himself a 1.5 second buffer over Oliveira with 10 laps gone.
Lap 12 ticked by and it was another fastest lap for Marquez, a 1:47.342 edging the gap to Oliveira to almost two seconds, with Vierge a further two seconds behind the KTM rider at this stage. That was until the Spaniard lost the front at Turn 8 while under pressure from Lecuona, the latter now up to P3, but Lecuona soon ran well wide at Turn 14 and dropped to eight seconds off the lead.
At the front, Oliveira and Marquez exchanged fastest laps at the mid-stage, the gap fluctuating between 1.5 and 2.0 seconds. But then, on Lap 15, Marquez suddenly crashed. Turn 14 was the corner but – such was the advantage the leaders had – the Spaniard was able to remount and rejoin the race in P3, still on for a podium and just ahead of Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team). It did, however, leave Oliveira in control of the race, with an 8.5 second gap between him and second place Lecuona.
From there on, the 2018 Moto2™ runner-up kept his cool to stride home for his third win of the season, taking the chequered flag by over 13 seconds back to Lecuona but the Spaniard earning a fantastic maiden Grand Prix podium. After the crash, Marquez was also able to salvage the podium, with Pasini taking a commendable P4 on what could prove his final Grand Prix race.
Fifth place went to Tech 3 Racing’s Remy Gardner, the Australian’s career-best result after he got the better of the recovering Quartararo, who took a phenomenal P6. After starting from the front row, Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) crossed the line in P7, while it was a home race top ten finish for Augusto Fernandez (Pons HP40) in P8. Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Racing Team) and Simone Corsi (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2) rounded out the top ten in the final Moto2™ race of the season. Meanwhile, 2018 Champion Bagnaia clawed his way to P14 on his final Moto2™ ride after getting caught up in the drama at Turn 2 early on.
Khairul Idham Pawi (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Xavi Cardelus (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2), replacement rider Tommaso Marcon (HDR Heidrun – Speed Up), Sam Lowes (Swiss Innovative Investors), a super fast Joe Roberts (NTS RW Racing GP), Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Brad Binder, Jorge Navarro (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) and a charging Niki Tuuli (Petronas Sprinta Racing) also crashed out – rider ok.
A dramatic final Honda-powered Moto2™ race of the year ends with Oliveira ending his intermediate class career on a high, while also ensuring Red Bull KTM Ajo are the Moto2™ 2018 Team Champions. Oliveira ran Bagnaia close – nine points the final margin – as the two now move to MotoGP™. So who will be the ones to watch at the beginning of a brand-new Triumph powered era in 2019?
Moto2™ Race Results: 1. Miguel Oliveira (POR) KTM 45’07.639 2. Iker Lecuona (SPA) KTM +13.201 3. Alex Marquez (SPA) KALEX +22.175
Moto3™: Can Öncü stuns the field to make Grand Prix history
It didn’t seem like a day for history to be made when the Circuit Ricardo Tormo began to wake up to a rain-soaked Sunday. It seemed like a day to endure, to be cautious; to take the points and not the risk. It seemed a day more likely to be defined by attrition rather than heroics, but Can Öncü (Red Bull KTM Ajo) ensured it becomes much more than that. Taking his first win as a wildcard, in his first appearance, at 15 years and 115 days old, the Turkish rider is the youngest ever Grand Prix winner, the first rider to win his first race since Noboru Ueda in the 125 race in Japan in 1991, and the first Grand Prix winner from the Asia Talent Cup. If that wasn’t enough, he did it in some serious style – crossing the line four seconds clear of reigning Champion Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) in second and another two ahead of John McPhee (CIP – Green Power).
It was Tony Arbolino (Marinelli Snipers Team) who took the holeshot from pole, although Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PruestelGP) looked threatening in second as McPhee lost a place and Öncü sliced through into third. Soon the Turk was also starting to threaten Bezzecchi as Arbolino started to make an early gap in the wet conditions, but the number 12 started to pull away again initially – until drama struck. Suddenly sliding out early, the former title contender was down and out of contention, with Arbolino left over two seconds clear of Öncü.
McPhee was then in third, leading Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) and teammate Martin as both Gresini riders made top starts, but the duo were soon past the Scot although the trio remained close. Then there was more drama up ahead and all eyes switched back to the front as Arbolino suddenly highsided out – having been over six seconds clear. Who did that leave in the lead? Debutant, wildcard and imminently impressive Öncü, nursing his own lead – and then starting to increase it.
Soon Martin was past Diggia and McPhee followed suit, but it remained the Turk’s to lose and behind the front few the gaps became even bigger. Nervous faces down at Red Bull KTM Ajo watched the laps tick down towards history being made and records being broken, but Öncü held firm and stayed calm – until a huge wobble on the final lap…
That saw the reigning Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup Champion immediately back off, with time in his pocket to play it safe. Crawling round the Circuit Ricardo Tormo for the final time, he eventually crossed the line four seconds clear for his first Grand Prix win, taking his place in history.
Martin took second in his only lightweight class race as reigning Champion, followed by McPhee in third after another impressive performance in the wet from the Scot. ‘Diggia’ ended the year and his Moto3™ career just off the podium but snatched second overall from Bezzecchi, with Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing) just behind in fifth. Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubia) wrapped up the Rookie of the Year title by taking sixth after his rival for that crown – Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46) – didn’t finish, with youth getting ahead of experience as Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) took P7. Nakarin Atiratphuvapat (Honda Team Asia), who leaves the paddock for pastures new next season, took his best ever finish in eighth after a stunning race and impressive weekend, with Marcos Ramirez (Bester Capital Dubai) and Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) completing the top ten.
Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse), Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) crashed out together in some early drama, and Darryn Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was another early faller. Bezzecchi ended his lightweight class career with two crashes in tough conditions, and teammate Jakub Kornfeil almost went down but was able to rejoin, taking the last point on offer in P15.
A new era now begins for many on the grid after a classic, goosebump-creator of a season finale. The Martins and Bezzecchis of the Championship move on to Moto2™ and the rookies and newcomers become the experienced runners, but the race leaves most with the distant sound of the Jaws theme after Öncü’s debut: the Turk becomes a full time rider next season – and he’s already a Grand Prix winner and a record breaker…
Moto3™ Race Results: 1. Can Öncü (TUR) KTM 43’06.370 2. Jorge Martin (SPA) HONDA +4.071 3. John McPhee (GBR) KTM +6.130
Words and images courtesy of www.motogp.com