Honda team-mates Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) went into this weekend’s Indonesian Grand Prix with high hopes, following an impressive pre-season test at the Circuit Mandalika on the island of Lombok.
That three-day test at the all-new circuit ended with Espargaro fastest and Marquez only four tenths slower, so both men were confident they could better their third- and fifth-place finishes at the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix two weeks ago.
Honda’s RC213V was completely redesigned to take advantage of Michelin’s current softer-casing rear slick and the Repsol Honda pair’s speed in pre-season testing and in Qatar confirmed the superb job undertaken by Honda Racing Corporation.
However, a surprise change of rear-tyre specification for this weekend changed everything. MotoGP’s tyre suppliers switched to a special heat-resistant rear slick, last used at the 2018 Grand Prix of Thailand, won by Marquez on a previous iteration of the RC213V. The tyre was deemed vital to cope with the gruelling heat and track conditions – earlier in the week, before practice got underway, the track temperature exceeded 60 degrees.
Unfortunately the 2022 RC213V was designed to work with the latest Michelin rear slick and did not suit the 2018 specification. All four Honda riders – Espargaro, Marquez, Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) didn’t have the rear grip they needed, so they struggled to get to the front of the pack during practice.
Yesterday afternoon the older Marquez gave it his all in the Q1 qualifying session, trying everything he knew to fight his way through to get into the Q2 session, so he could have a chance of starting today’s race from one of the first four rows.
But because Marquez lacked rear grip he tried harder than ever with the front tyre, falling twice, which left him on the fifth row on the grid. Meanwhile Espargaro started from the next row, the younger Marquez on row seven and Nakagami on row eight.
Sadly, there was worse to come for Marquez. He worked hard to further adapt his RC213V to the hard-casing rear tyre but suffered a nasty crash in this morning’s warm-up session when the rear tyre lost grip. The six-times MotoGP king was helicoptered to hospital in Lombok’s main town of Mataram. He was declared unfit, due to concussion. The 29-year-old Spaniard will undergo further checks when he returns home to Spain.
Today’s race was delayed by more than an hour when very heavy rain arrived at Mandalika shortly after the preceding Moto2 race. Finally when the rain eased the shortened 20-lap race went ahead on a soaking track. Espargaro knew he would have a difficult ride, because he started from far back on the grid and struggled with serious vision issues due to the spray and the dirt thrown up by the other bikes. The 30-year-old was therefore in survival mode and took the flag in 12th, which places him a promising sixth overall in the 2022 MotoGP World Championship.
Espargaro is now looking forward to the next race in Argentina, two weeks from now, when the grid will once again be equipped with Michelin’s 2022 rear slick, so both Repsol Honda Team riders should once again be able to show their true potential.
The younger Marquez also had a challenging race in the conditions, coming through from 15th on the first lap to chase Espargaro over the line in 13th place. His team-mate Nakagami had a tough ride, finishing 19th.
The Argentine GP on April 3 is followed by the Grand Prix of the Americas on April 10. Then the MotoGP grid returns to its home in Europe, where the European section of the championship, starting with the Portuguese and Spanish GPs on April 24 and May 1.