Honda’s new MotoGP recruit Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) looks forward to his second race aboard his RC213V with real confidence following a quietly impressive debut at Losail last Sunday.
This weekend’s Doha Grand Prix takes place at the same track to maximize racing for MotoGP’s huge global television audience and minimize logistical and travel problems while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Espargaro started the Qatar GP from 12th on the grid and finished eighth, just 5.9 seconds behind the winner. What made this result even more impressive was the fact that the 29-year-old Spaniard lose 3.8 seconds in the opening two laps, due to an incident with another rider and a desire to ride conservatively in his first race start with the RC213V to minimize risk.
Therefore he lost only 2.1 seconds to the winner over the remaining 20 laps of the race, a difference of just one tenth of a second per lap, despite making several overtaking maneuvers. During some laps he was actually faster than the winner, an amazing performance in his first race on the bike.
Armed with the huge amount of knowledge and data he gathered during his first race weekend with Repsol Honda he is convinced he can work with his crew to do much better this Sunday. Espargaro’s clear intention is to fight for the 2021 MotoGP World Championship, so he knows he needs a bigger points haul at the second of this year’s 20 races.
Key to a better result will be a better grid position, which will require him to extract maximum performance from a fresh soft tire during qualifying. This isn’t always easy, but Espargaro should be able to make a good step forward on Saturday. And if he can qualify on the front two rows he will be able to go with the lead group and learn even more about racing his RC213V at the limit.
This weekend team-mate Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) continues his duties as replacement rider for Honda’s six-times MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), who is well on the road to recovery from injury but isn’t quite ready to return to racing.
Bradl finished Sunday’s race in 11th place, enjoying some thrilling battles with rivals to finish one second outside the second-closest top ten in seven decades of MotoGP racing. This was another impressive result, considering that the 31-year-old German is HRC’s test rider, rather than a full-time MotoGP rider.
Bradl, winner of the 2011 Moto2 World Championship and victor in that year’s Qatar Moto2 race, feels he can improve on both his performance in the early laps and his overall pace when he starts work again during Friday’s opening free practice sessions.
Marquez undergoes his next medical check-up on Monday April 12, when specialists will decide whether or not the 28-year-old Spaniard is ready to race again.
Team-mates Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu Honda RC213V) and Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol Honda RC213V) will be looking to regroup during their second consecutive weekend at Losail after a difficult season-opening race. Both LCR riders slid out of the 22-lap event, during which cooler track conditions and strong winds made the going somewhat treacherous. Both were unhurt, thanks to the latest high-performance riding equipment they wear.
Nakagami had gone into the race expecting a good result after finding an excellent direction with machine set-up on Saturday. The 29-year-old from Chiba fell at the Turn Nine left-hander, where the north-westerly wind caused problems for many riders.
The younger Marquez went down eight laps later at the Turn Five left, which also suffered from the north-westerly wind. The 24-year-old Spaniard had lost time in a lap-one collision with a rider and came back strongly, passing several riders but struggling to make moves when he was in the pack.
Both riders understand that they must keep looking forward, focusing on improving their performance this weekend, when track conditions will hopefully be better.
Losail is an unusual circuit and the race’s night-time schedule – beneath a vast floodlight system – makes it unique in MotoGP. The circuit is dominated by medium-fast corners, many of them in linked sequences, so riders need their machines to be very maneuverable. They also need a lot of horsepower for Losail’s 1.1km/0.7-mile start/finish straight. Last Sunday Espargaro was delighted to have the fastest bike in the race – his RC213V reaching a best of 355.2kmh/220.7mph.
Qatar welcomed MotoGP for the first time in 2004, making the country the first Middle Eastern nation to host a round of the MotoGP World Championships.
After Sunday’s race at Losail the MotoGP paddock packs up and heads to Portugal, for the start of the European sector of the championship. Following the Portuguese GP the action moves to Spain, France and Italy. The season is due to conclude at Valencia, Spain, on November 14.