Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu Honda RC213V) had a thrilling ride to an ultra-close fourth place finish in the Spanish sunshine at Jerez today.
The 29-year-old from Chiba was one of the fastest riders during the closing stages of the race – thanks to his RC213V preserving its rear tyre so well – as he chased a first MotoGP podium. He took the chequered flag just 0.690 seconds behind the third-place finisher, essentially replicating his result from last year’s Andalusian GP at Jerez.
Nakagami had a challenging start to the 2021 MotoGP World Championship in Qatar and in Portugal, where he raced in considerable discomfort following a high-speed tumble in practice. Although not fully recovered the former Moto2 winner rode superbly throughout the Jerez weekend and the equal-best result of his premier-class career was richly deserved.
During practice Nakagami reverted to the RC213V chassis he used so successfully last season. Although the differences between the two iterations are minor he simply feels more comfortable with the equipment he used in all 14 rounds of the 2020 MotoGP season.
The race also gave Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) reason to celebrate. Honda’s six-times MotoGP World Champion finished a very close ninth in only his second race since his return to racing following a nine-month layoff with an arm injury.
The 28-year-old Spaniard crossed the line just ten seconds behind the winner, an improvement on his Portuguese GP result two weeks ago, when he finished 13 seconds behind the winner. This was an impressive result which underlines the fact that Marquez is continuing his return to his normal pace, step by step.
In fact his result was remarkable because he suffered two high-speed tumbles at Jerez – the first in yesterday morning’s FP3 session, the second in this morning’s warm-up session. Both crashes happened at the Turn Seven left-hander and were mostly attributable to cool front tyres. The weather at Jerez has been cooler than usual at this time of year, the traditional time for the Spanish GP.
At least the two tumbles give Marquez reassurance that his right arm – which has undergone three surgeries since last July – is back to full strength. His current issue isn’t bone strength, but muscle strength. It will most likely take him a few more months before he has the power to ride a 350kph MotoGP bike at his usual pace.
Team-mate Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) also fell at Turn Seven yesterday, during FP4, and today rode a conservative race to finish just behind Marquez, struggling to find grip after setting a fast pace in this morning’s warm-up session. This was the 29-year-old Spaniard’s second-best result of his first season with Honda as he continues to work to unlock the secrets of the RC213V.
During the early stages of the race he was just ahead of his team-mate, then they swapped positions, with Espargaro chasing Marquez from shortly before half-distance. Following a rider who knows the RC213V so well certainly helped Espargaro learn more about his machine; a process he will continue during tomorrow’s one-day official test at Jerez.
HRC test rider Stefan Bradl (Team Honda Honda RC213V) had a strong ride to 12th, hampered somewhat by arm-pump issues in the closing stages. Most importantly the 30-year-old German had a strong pace in practice and in today’s race which will allow HRC to continue development of its RC213V machines.
Marquez’s younger brother Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) had a day to forget, sliding out of the race on the very first lap. The former Moto3 and Moto2 World Champion had a great ride to eighth place in Portugal and had been hoping to build on that performance this weekend. However, it was not to be, so the 24-year-old Spaniard will regroup and rebuild in time for the next race in France, where last year he scored the first of two rookie-season podiums, with second place.
The French Grand Prix takes place at legendary French motorsport venue Le Mans on May 16. The MotoGP paddock then has another weekend off before back-to-back races at Mugello, Italy, and Barcelona, Spain.