Amidst the heightened emotions of the title-deciding Valencia GP season finale and the subsequent thrill of rider debuts a few days later at the Test, a significant story evaded the limelight as 2023 drew to a close. The tumultuous journey of Pol Espargaro, marred by a brutal injury sustained during the opening weekend crash in Portimao, unfolded as a less-heralded but captivating tale.
Enduring a protracted recovery process, the resilient #44 rider made his return to the track at the British GP, only to face another setback shortly after – the loss of his full time GASGAS Tech3 seat to Augusto Fernandez and Pedro Acosta. Despite rumoured interest from Repsol Honda, Espargaro is slated to transition into the role of the team's Test Rider from 2024. Consequently, the Valencia GP marked his final appearance as a full-time MotoGP™ rider.
If you can't hold back your tears, we can't blame you at all! 🥺— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) November 27, 2023
Not the send-off @polespargaro was hoping for, but the reception from his brother and @Tech3Racing were simply heartwarming ❤️#ValenciaGP 🏁 pic.twitter.com/FvJYVP1WnH
As Espargaro crossed the chequered flag at Circuit Ricardo Tormo, the moment triggered a flood of emotions. Friends, family, and loved ones gathered by his side, expressing their gratitude for his efforts during a trying season.
"It was a very tricky day honestly, you know, it's not the last time I'm going to be on a on a grid but obviously the emotions that I was feeling on that grid they were a little bit too much. Every time I raised my head and I was looking at all the people in the stands, the noise, the tension, all my teammates around, all the guys that I have raced with since I was a little guy. It's been amazing. I just feel so, so lucky to have been with you know living my life, my story, trying to chase my dreams through the last 10 years so I'm a very lucky guy,” said Espargaro after the race in Valencia.
"A day to remember because, OK I have raced my last race as a permanent guy in MotoGP but obviously because I had those people surrounding me. This is with the people I live every day with, every hour, not just in racing but at home. It's the people that make me happy so at the end of the day I need them from now till the end of my days so it was just amazing to be with them."
One of those who was the first to offer his congratulations and thanks was elder brother Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing). The #41 spoke glowingly about Pol, and the influence he has had on his career.
"Pol has been always my idol even if I'm older than him. When we arrived at the World Championship, he was very fast immediately, winning races and he won the Moto2 title. I've always been by his side so today was very emotional. On the grid, I went to hug him and I couldn't avoid crying before the race. It was not easy. The last lap with him was very nice. This year has been very tough you know because you cannot imagine how Pol has suffered and we, his family, we suffered a lot with him. His injury in Portimao was a very big one and I'm very happy to see him happy and smiling. Next year he has a new role but for me you know I don't really care where he works I want to see him happy and I think he's happy now."
Admitting he hasn’t been the same rider as he was prior to his Portimao crash, Pol Espargaro is looking forward to getting some well-deserved R&R before focusing on the future.
"I need to take some rest. I need to recover myself a little bit. It's been a while since I don't feel as competitive as I should feel, but also with the confidence that I need to perform to be beside these guys. These guys are talented, young and extremely fit. If you don't have all of these things, then you are too far away so you enjoy it. It's important to enjoy it but I will need to recover part of the Pol that left in Portimao."
While it's not a definitive farewell, it does mark the conclusion of a significant chapter for the rider hailing from the vicinity of Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya. With an impressive track record, including a Moto2™ World Championship, 15 Grand Prix victories, and an additional 37 podium finishes, eight of which were in MotoGP™, Espargaro departs the grid with achievements that many would take pride in and others can only aspire to attain.
Yet, as mentioned, this isn't a final goodbye. We look forward to seeing Espargaro make his return to the track as a wildcard with GASGAS Tech3 in 2024 as he begins the next stage of his career.