This Sunday 2020 MotoGP World Championship goes racing at Jerez for the second consecutive weekend. The Jerez double-header starts a 13-round series for the premier MotoGP class, shortened and delayed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This weekend’s event is named the Andalusian Grand Prix, after the region that’s home to the city of Jerez.
Once again MotoGP goes to work under strict COVID-19 health protocols, with teams operating with reduced staff, PPE in place and no fans allowed at the track. In spite the absence of Jerez’s huge and famously noisy crowd, last Sunday’s season-opening MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 races entertained fans around the world after months of no racetrack action.
Sadly, the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix was a weekend to forget for Honda. The company’s strongest riders - Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL RC213V) - were both injured on Sunday. The baking-hot conditions reduced grip and caused plenty of crashes. Crutchlow fell in morning warm-up, fracturing the scaphoid bone in his left wrist, while Marquez fell in the latter stages of the race, breaking his right humerus (upper arm) bone.
Both riders had surgery in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday. Crutchlow is determined to ride this weekend, but Marquez’s injury requires a lengthier rehabilitation. The reigning MotoGP World Champion and winner of six of the last seven MotoGP titles hopes to be back in action next month, although it is too early to give a precise date for his return.
Marquez was looked after by the best possible surgeons at the Hospital Universitari Dexeus. His medical team was led by Dr Xavier Mir, who is renowned in the MotoGP paddock. During the operation surgeons performed an open reduction and internal fixation of a titanium plate to the fracture. One important detail is that the radial nerve was untouched and did not need intervention.
Crutchlow was also looked after by Mir, who fixed the tiny but important scaphoid bone with a screw-pin. The 34-year-old British rider will return to Jerez on Thursday when he will undergo a medical check to ascertain his fitness and strength. If he passes the test he will start practice on Friday.
MotoGP’s current COVID-19 required all riders and team staff to stay at Jerez between the Spanish and Andalusian GPs, so they’ve all had plenty of time to examine data from last Sunday’s race to improve their performance for this Sunday’s race.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU RC213V) is confident he can better his first 2020 Jerez result, when he was hampered by front-grip issues. After an incident early in the race the 28-year-old from Chiba regrouped and started to move forward into the top ten. He will learn those lessons, make some changes to his bike set-up and riding style during Friday and Saturday practice, then aim for the top six on Sunday.
MotoGP rookie Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) has even more to learn. The reigning Moto2 World Champion finally got to contest his first MotoGP race on Sunday and he can’t wait for his second, so that he can continue his premier-class apprenticeship. The 24-year-old Spaniard was happy with his 12th place - championship points on his MotoGP debut - which was the result of a calm, intelligent approach in the tricky and slippery conditions. His pace during the mid-stages of the race was good, so his main focus for this weekend will be to improve his speed in the early laps, with new tires and a full tank of fuel, and during the last laps, with worn tires. All riders will again expect to face grueling heat for another exhausting race.
Jerez staged its first GP in 1987, when Wayne Gardner won the premier-class race aboard his Honda NSR500, on his way to winning that year’s 500cc world title. The circuit has always offered a great challenge to riders and engineers. Its sinuous layout keeps bikes on the side of their tires for much of the lap, so it’s important for both riders and engineers to find ways to look after the tires over full-race distance, especially in these very hot conditions. Brute horsepower is not vital to success at Jerez, but strong braking performance for the three hairpin corners - Turns Two, Six and 13 - is important.
Although the premier-class championship started at Jerez last Sunday the Moto2 and Moto3 categories started their season in Qatar back in March. Therefore this Sunday’s racing is their third event of 14.
Tetsuta Nagashima (Red Bull KTM Ajo Kalex) currently leads the Moto2 World Championship, ahead of Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40 Kalex) and Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46 Kalex).
Nagashima won the first race in Qatar and finished second to Marini last Sunday. The 28-year-old father of three from Kanagawa put Marini under plenty of pressure in the second round and is establishing himself as the favorite for the 2020 Moto2 title. He will aim to take another step forward on Sunday, but of course he won’t be the only rider who will be able to use his experience from last weekend to improve his performance.
Moto2 team-mates Somkiat Chantra (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia Kalex) and Andi Farid Izdihar (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia Kalex) had a more difficult time at round two.
Chantra - who thrilled during his 2019 rookie season with several stunning rides - was arguably the unluckiest man of the weekend. The 21-year-old Thai rider slid off on Saturday, hurting his back, but he bravely took the start, only to get knocked down by another rider.
For his second Jerez race in eight days Chantra aims to improve the feeling of his machine, so he can ride race-pace lap times with more confidence. If he can do that he will once again challenge for World Championship points.
Rookie Izdihar scored his first top-20 last Sunday in only his third Grand Prix. The 22-year-old Indonesian worked well with his crew to improve machine set-up throughout practice and qualifying, making a final step in morning warm-up, which helped him run a decent pace during the race. The data he gathered from that outing will be vital to helping him to continue his progress this weekend, when he will have his first World Championship points in sight.
Youngster Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia Honda NSF250RW) is building a great reputation in only his second season in the Moto3 World Championship. While countryman Nagashima leads the way in the Moto2 class the 19-year-old from Tokyo currently holds second place in the Moto3 title chase, following two superb podiums in the Qatar and Spanish GPs.
Ogura finished third in Qatar, just 0.344 seconds off the win, and improved to second at Jerez, narrowing the gap to the winner to 0.340 seconds! With so much speed the former Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup and FIM CEV Moto3 Junior Championship rider knows that he only needs to work on the details for his next Jerez outing. Once again it is expected the race will be a frantic battle, with ten or more riders disputing victory, so Ogura’s main focus will be staying out of trouble and saving his best for the all-important final lap.
Honda has dominated the fiercely fought Moto3 class in recent years and once again the company’s NSF250R riders figure strongly in the title fight, with six Honda men in the current top seven.
Qatar GP runner-up John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing Honda NSF250RW) is third overall, despite getting knocked down at the final corner last Sunday, while heading for a podium finish. This is the reality of Moto3 - the racing is so close that accidents sometimes happen.
Just one point behind the 26-year-old Britain are Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing Honda NSF250RW), Jerez pole-position man Tatsuki Suzuki (Sic58 Squadra Corse Honda NSF250RW) and Gabriel Rodrigo (Kommerling Gresini Moto3 Honda NSF250RW). A further two points behind that trio is Tony Arbolino (Snipers Team Honda NSF250RW). All of these riders have a chance of victory this Sunday.
Ogura’s new team-mate Yuki Kunii (Honda Team Asia Honda NSF250RW) looks forward to a better race in his third Grand Prix outing on Sunday. The 17-year-old from Setagaya was out of luck last Sunday, when a technical glitch during the race forced him into the pits. Kunii had worked hard with his crew during practice to find the best set-up but going into the race he still lacked what he really needed. The last few days have given him a chance to use race data to find new solutions.
After the second race of 2020 for MotoGP and the third races for the smaller classes the paddock heads right across Europe for the Czech Grand Prix at Brno, followed by a double-header at Austria’s Red Bull Ring.
*Marc Marquez has been passed the medical review on Thursday to participate in the Grand Prix.