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The most important Sunday afternoon of the incredible 2020 MotoGP™ season is coming up at the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana, but who has the best race pace judging from FP4 on Saturday afternoon?
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) topped the 30-minute stint thanks to a 1:30.895 on a four-lap old rear Michelin medium tyre. The Spaniard looked good in race trim but has a mountain to climb on Sunday if he’s going to have a shot at becoming the first Suzuki rider since Kevin Schwantz in 1994 to claim four successive podiums. But, as we’ve seen on more than once occasion this year, Rins has the capability of carving his way through the pack on a Sunday afternoon. Will his pace allow him to do that though?
On his second run, the number 42 was comfortably lapping in the low 1:31s. After a banker lap, Rins hit a 1:31.0, a 1:31.1 and then his fastest lap, before dropping to two consecutive 1:31.3s ahead of the chequered flag. We know that both Rins and teammate Joan Mir enjoy better fortunes on a Sunday, however, the going might be tougher than usual in Valencia.
Likewise to his fellow GSX-RR rider, Mir has good pace. Low 1:31s was the name of his game in a second run that consisted of a 1:31.135 on the final lap – when the medium tyres were 11 and 12 laps old – alongside two 1:31.2s and a 1:31.3. Starting from P12 though, Mir has to make rapid progress.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) is a rider who has emerged as a leading contender. The Japanese powerhouse will launch from his third consecutive front row start on Sunday, and has strong pace. His first run on the medium-medium compounds was very mixed and inconsistent, the best coming in the form of a 1:31.210 on his ninth flying lap. Nakagami then pitted for a hard-front tyre, keeping the same medium on. The result? He only got four bites at the cherry but on a 20-lap old rear medium tyre, Nakagami chucked in a 1:30.995 lap. Good enough for second best in the session and if we consider the race is a 27-lap battle, a 1:30 time heading into the final seven laps could be decisive.
Third place Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) could be a bit of a dark horse at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo. On a 17-lap old medium front and six-lap old rear medium tyre in his first run, Zarco set a 1:31.020 to claim third in the session. Then, on a 25-lap old front medium and 14-lap old rear medium, Zarco was able to hammer home a 1:31.501. Low to mid 1:31s look to be the desired race pace at the front of the field judging from FP4 and starting from P4, the Ducati rider is well in the hunt.
Then comes polesitter Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT). That mid to low 1:31 range was where Morbidelli was lapping in both of his runs on the medium tyres, his quickest lap of the session coming – rather impressively and potentially scary for the opposition – on his final lap. That was a 1:31.112 on 23-lap old tyres. Not bad at all from Morbidelli who is well on course to go after his third win of 2020 with that sort of pace on heavily used tyres.
Another rider to look out for is Jack Miller (Pramac Racing). On his 11 flying lap run on fresh medium rubber, the Australian stuck in five laps that were 1:31.4 or quicker. The fastest of those being a 1:31.180 on his ninth flying lap, and a front row start will help Miller have a better go at things than he did last weekend. The KTM trio also looks strong, Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) was the first of those in FP4 and was seemingly happy to lap in the mid 1:31s on pretty heavily used medium tyres.
The Portuguese star set a 1:31.512 on his penultimate lap, his tyres at that stage were 23 and 16 laps old. Oliveira always comes good at the end of the race, so the number 88 is definitely one to keep a keen eye on. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) didn’t complete too many laps but the South African was easily lapping in the mid-1:31s, while teammate Pol Espargaro strung together – probably – the most consistent run in FP4. A wonderful sight when trying to analyse the charts.
Last weekend’s podium finisher started his run on eight and five lap old medium tyres. His best time came fairly early on in the form of a 1:31.412, but only twice after that in the next 10 flying laps did he dip below a 1:31.6 lap time. His last lap time, a 1:31.573, was set on a 23-lap old rear tyre and a 26-lap old front tyre. It was a very solid run from the number 44, who was another rider happily lapping in the mid-1:31s.
Basically, Match Point Sunday in Valencia is going to be a mesmerising watch. There are a lot of riders who look to have a similar pace, but as we know, the race can be a different kettle of fish altogether. Tune in for the penultimate MotoGP™ battle royale of 2020 at 14:00 local time (GMT+1).