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Over the past few years, it’s fair to say that both Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) – the two most experienced riders on the current premier class grid – have been known as ‘Sunday riders’. Often qualifying off the front row on Saturday, before turning up the wick on Sunday to claim one of the three places on the podium.
Eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) usually does his winning after producing the goods on a Saturday too. But in a crazy 2020 campaign, we’ve seen plenty of riders do what we're used to seeing from the Italian warhorses: have an alright to below-par qualifying before producing a phenomenal performance on a Sunday afternoon. The first of those was Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) at the Czech GP. The MotoGP™ rookie had already shown superb pace in Jerez and if it wasn’t for a couple of mistakes, we may have already seen Binder on the rostrum before was went down in Czechia.
However, race day in Brno was one of the most historic days in MotoGP™ for years. From P7 on the grid, Binder was simply unstoppable and gave KTM their first win in the premier class, as well as handing South Africa that very same accolade. It was a monumental day for the sport in general, and what we know now is that it kickstarted a wonderfully unpredictable season that continues to throw surprises at us.
Two races later, another KTM rider stood on the top step of the podium. At the Austrian factory’s second of two home rounds at the Red Bull Ring, Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) etched his name into the history books to become Portugal’s first premier class winner. The MotoGP™ sophomore started P8 on the grid but came through to surprise Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) and Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) at the final corner on the final lap, taking the chequered flag in P1 to also hand Tech3 a long-awaited and richly deserved MotoGP™ victory.
Then, at the San Marino and Emilia Romagna GPs, we saw Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Joan Mir come from P8 and P11 on the grid to claim two podiums. Qualifying has been Suzuki’s only real downfall in 2020, but their race pace certainly makes up for that. Mir demonstrated exactly this at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, so much so that no matter where the Spaniard qualifies, you know – more often than not – he’s going to be a podium challenger. In Barcelona, Mir again qualified P8 but crossed the line less than a second away from victor Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) in P2.
We then turned the page for MotoGP™’s next chapter: Le Mans. The French GP was the first wet race since the 2018 Valencia GP, and it was host to one of the best rides we’ve seen for a long time. Rookie and reigning Moto2™ World Champion Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), from 18th on the grid, carved his way through the pack in his first wet weather outing on the RC213V to finish just 1.2 seconds from victory. Not even Marquez could have expected to produce such a classy ride, as the number 73 handed Honda their first rostrum of the season.
Just behind the double World Champion in France was Pol Espargaro, who bagged his third podium of 2020 from a P8 starting slot. Wet races can always throw up some surprises but the Spaniard and KTM being on the podium is no longer a shock, as he almost demonstrated that again at the Teruel GP.
Before the Teruel GP though, we feasted our eyes on yet another sensational Sunday outing. Two of them in fact. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) chalked up his first win of 2020 despite starting P10 on the grid at the Aragon GP, with 11th fastest qualifier Alex Marquez following his compatriot through the pack to seal his second consecutive MotoGP™ podium. It was two mighty fine displays from the Suzuki and Honda men, with Rins’ victory from Row 4 the first achieved by any rider – in a fully dry race – starting from off the first three rows since Rossi’s famous Assen 2007 victory from P11. Marquez’ P2 was an astonishing ride once again from the 24-year-old.
A week later at the same venue, Mir claimed his sixth podium in eight races. Qualifying troubles saw the now Championship leader having to start from P12, but that didn’t faze him. By now, pretty much everyone expected Mir to at least challenge for the podium from the fourth row. The win still evaded him but it was another relatively comfortable podium finish for the 2017 Moto3™ World Champion, a result that now sees him stand 14 points clear of the field with three to play. The aforementioned ride from Pol Espargaro in Teruel saw him pick up P4 from ninth on the grid, another great performance from the future HRC man.
2020 has been a wild year. Endless talking points, unprecedented drama and unrivalled racing. Sunday has seen riders pull some tremendous results out the hat, and we still have three races to go for us to witness more heroics. Are there more Sunday surprises on the way? You bet there is.
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