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Sunday at the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana is one that Pol Espargaro and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing will never forget after they achieved their first MotoGP™ podium – for both rider and team.
“I cannot believe it, I cannot believe. This is crazy,” began an emotional Espargaro, who – unbelievably – crashed in ‘Race 1’, only to re-mount and continue, allowing him to line up on the grid for ‘Race 2’. The Spaniard continued: “In the first race I was really fast and fighting against Marc and catching Dovi sometimes. After that the red flag came, before that, I had a huge crash, I thought that I’d injured myself again because the crash was super, super big.
An amazing end to a tough year for Pol Espargaro
“But you know the bike was still on and I thought ‘this must be a message from someone up there’, so I got on the bike again. From last I started overtaking guys until I was eighth. Then I started in eighth. I did a good start in the second (race), it wasn’t as good as the first one but after that crash… yeah it was fast enough and I… just fighting with Dani and I cannot believe it, it’s crazy.”
In ‘Race 2’, the 2013 Moto2™ World Champion was able to get another good start as he found himself battling with three-time World Champion Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team), before capitalising on a Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) crash to seal a stunning P3: “Yeah I was fighting with my all and I knew this was my opportunity, and this type of opportunity you don’t have every week,” explains Espargaro. “You have it once in a lifetime sometimes and I took it with both my hands, but I saw Dani that he was coming and he was pushing. I knew that if I wanted that podium or that position, I needed to fight. For me fourth was good, but if I had some chance to fight for third I had nothing to lose so I tried, and it worked. This was a crazy crazy end with a lot of water on the track. Yeah, just unreal.”
Unreal is one of the many words you could use to describe his and KTM’s maiden MotoGP™ podium, but for much of the 2018 season, this seemed nigh on impossible. The 27-year-old has had a torrid year with injuries, with his Brno Warm Up crash leaving him with a fractured collarbone and an inflamed spinal cord. This led to Espargaro missing the Czech GP, Austrian GP, British GP and seriously affecting his San Marino GP. Then, a crash in Aragon resulted in him suffering a repeat fracture of his collarbone injury sustained in the Czech Republic.
So, you can understand why the tears were flowing after he took the chequered flag in P3. But it meant even more than what meets the eye: “Yeah it means much more than what people expect,” admits the number 44 rider. “It’s a podium and it’s super – it’s a podium and it’s amazing but the podium at the end, doesn’t matter. It’s the position, it’s the feeling after this race.”
As well as Esparagro, KTM lost test rider Mika Kallio to a season-ending injury midway through the season at the Sachsenring, which has seriously affected their testing schedule. And Espargaro pays tribute to his team:
“It’s like an oxygen bottle for everyone after a tough year for everyone. I’m just super happy and I saw the faces of the team and they deserve it as much as me. I was injured at home but they were suffering at the races because they were not seeing me sitting in my chair. So this is for them, this is for my people, this is for my wife, for all the people around me and cheering me for. This has been a tough year but finally, we have the trophy.”
KTM and Espargaro couldn’t have wished for a better weekend in Valencia. Top ten in every session, a maiden MotoGP™ podium and wins in the Moto2™ and Moto3™ classes. Valencia was - mostly - painted orange on Sunday, and what a boost it is for the Austrian factory heading into their third premier class season. They now welcome Johann Zarco into their ranks...
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