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Back-to-back races on the same circuit give us a good chance to see who has made some solid progress from weekend to weekend, and who might have had a downturn in fortunes – or is continuing to struggle at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo. The conditions may have been slightly different, but last Friday’s almost dry second Free Practice can still give us some good insight.
An obvious name who has enjoyed success on Friday at the European Grand Prix and Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana is Jack Miller (Pramac Racing). The Australian topped a dry-ish FP2 last week and rose to the fore again seven days later to snatch top spot late on with a 1:30.622. Qualifying and race day didn’t go quite as planned for Miller, but in fully dry conditions – not mixed, ones he always flourishes in – the GP20 rider was nearly a tenth clear of anyone.
Things are looking good for the number 43, and they’re looking equally as promising for Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) in Valencia. Last Friday’s day at the office wasn’t exactly bad for the Japanese rider either, a P4 set him up for a great weekend where he – again – narrowly missed out on that illustrious maiden MotoGP™ rostrum.
However, just as he did at MotorLand Aragon, Nakagami looks bang in form as the premier class return to the same piece of asphalt. Fastest in FP2 and just missing out on FP2 top spot sees the Honda star as one of the favourites heading into the rest of the Valencia Grand Prix.
After European GP Friday, it’s fair to say Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) looked in trouble. P15 and 0.9 seconds off your teammate isn’t where anyone wants to be, but fast forward seven days and the Italian is back to the sort of form we became accustomed to seeing in the mid-part of the season. P3, 0.120 seconds off Miller is a drastic improvement and judging from his time on track and his comments off it, Bagnaia looks to have rediscovered his mojo.
Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) is another Ducati firing on all cylinders. Similar to Pecco, Zarco gains 12 places from one Friday to another to find himself P5 heading into qualifying day. One place ahead of him on the current timesheets is Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Pol Espargaro, polesitter and podium finisher last time out, who is once again showing some serious pace in Valencia. A fifth place came the way of the Spaniard last Friday, while it’s P4 this weekend. Traditionally, Pol Espargaro and KTM go very well when MotoGP™ return to the same track a week after: P10 to the podium at Misano, P12 to P4 at MotorLand Aragon – and that’s when they haven’t enjoyed a good opening weekend. With this in mind, the number 44 is going to take some stopping.
Let’s have a quick look at some of the riders who have experienced a downturn in fortunes, judging from the standings. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) won’t want to reminisce about his European Grand Prix in a hurry, but it seems things aren’t getting too much better a week on. In his debrief, the Frenchman admits it’s one of his worst days of the season as he and the team go in search of a setting that enables him to find some sort of feeling. P9 last Friday to P16 this Friday doesn’t make for great reading.
World Championship leader Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) also endured a more difficult 90 minutes, a crash at Turn 4 hampered his afternoon as the European GP race winner finished P12 on the timesheets. Mir was P10 at this stage last week, so the number 36 has slipped a couple of positions, but both he and teammate Alex Rins sound happy with their day’s work and remain confident. Rins was further down the timesheets too, but like Mir, isn’t disappointed with his Friday. On paper, it looks like the Suzukis are struggling slightly more than they did last week, but we’ll wait and see if that’s a trend that continues into Saturday and Sunday.
Elsewhere, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) finished in the top 10 on Day 1 last week, but South African is now 15th. It was a quiet day for the Czech GP race winner, who is half a second behind teammate Pol Espargaro on Friday and has work to do if he’s wanting a second consecutive Q2 place in Valencia. Fellow rookie Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) crashed twice in FP2, the Spaniard finished P19 – although just 0.7 seconds off P1 – compared to a P16 finish last week. The Rookie of the Year battle between the two is heating up, that’s one to watch for sure.
Drawing direct comparisons between European GP Friday and Valencia GP Friday isn’t going to tell the full story. Conditions were very iffy last Friday, while today, they were pretty much perfect. However, no matter which way you look at it, Saturday and Sunday look set to live up to all expectations.
Seven tenths cover the top 19, three tenths split the top 11 and there’s two Championship contenders currently sitting outside the top 10. The premier class action begins at 09:55 on Saturday morning, make sure you don’t miss a single lap of action!
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