Motor sport

Misano MotoGP: Perfect Pecco has a knife to Quartararo’s throat

“I had the knife here,” Fabio Quartararo said outside the Yamaha garage in Misano on Sunday afternoon. The man who has run the 2022 MotoGP championship since the Portuguese GP in April plunged his fingers into his throat, miming a knife ready to deliver the coup de grace.

Two weeks earlier at the Red Bull Ring, the Frenchman had rode his underpowered Yamaha YZR-M1 to a remarkable second place, but this time around a tighter and slower circuit he couldn’t do any magic, collapsing in fifth place, five seconds later. on winner Pecco Bagnaia, an eon in modern MotoGP.

Those who like to mix up their metaphors have suggested that Quartararo brought a knife to a shootout in Misano and there’s no doubt that he’s increasingly under-armed. Four races ago he enjoyed a 91 point advantage over Bagnaia, now that lead has fallen to 31 points, with six races to go. If rival Ducati continues to hack chunks of the defending champion’s lead at the current rate, Bagnaia will take the series lead at the penultimate race, in Japan later this month.

The Misano race, like this year’s championship, was slow, with the usual lack of overtaking at the front, but halfway through the race it was clear what was about to happen. Enea Bastianini, recently announced as Ducati’s last works rider, came to replace his teammate Bagnaia in 2023. Because, as all riders know, the first rider you have to beat is your teammate – it’s about mark the ground in the garage.

And Bastianini’s renowned ability to save his tires for the final push would surely be the difference.

The San Marino GP was the real home race of Ducati and Aprilia – the Italian V4s designed and built in Bologna and Noale – and the race was all about them, no one else.

Bastianini, Bagnaia and Viñales fight for second place, moments before Jack Miller turns this confrontation into a battle for victory

Dorna

By the end of the first lap, there were five Ducatis and two Aprilias in the top seven, and then very quickly three Ducatis and two Aprilias, as poleman Jack Miller and stellar rookie Marco Bezzecchi slipped on lap two. Like everyone else, the pair had chosen Michelin’s medium rear slick, which was slow to arrive.

Miller’s disappearance promoted Bastianini – wearing a retro 1980s livery in honor of his Gresini team’s late owner Fausto Gresini – to first place, but the youngster was also skating on thin ice.

“It was tough at the start because my feelings with the bike were so weird and it was hard to get the temperature in the tyres,” said Bastianini, who wanted to run the soft rear tire but switched to medium at the last moment on the grid, as race day was warmer than Friday and Saturday. This put all the lead runners on the same hard/medium combination.

Miller’s fall, a few meters ahead, was a big warning for Bastianini, who was happy to see Aprilia’s Bagnaia and Maverick Viñales advance to the next lap as the heat from their bikes had warmed up his tires.

“After they passed it was better for me so I could push and go with them,” he said.

For a moment, it looked like Viñales, who made his Aprilia racing debut a year ago at Misano, might take his first win for the works. He spent two-thirds of the race just behind Bagnaia, still looking for a way to pass. His team were confident he had what it took to take the lead in the early stages, but Bagnaia was too perfect and then Viñales started making mistakes – running far into the corners, wasting valuable overtaking opportunities.

Perhaps he had temperature and pressure problems in the front tires as he rode in the boiling wake of the Desmosedici de Bagnaia? No, Viñales said later. There may be some truth to this, as Michelin’s harder front tires are less likely to bulge under pressure than the softer variants.

Fabio Quartararo on the MotoGP grid at Misano 2022

Future problems. Quartararo on the grid – he already knows he’s going to struggle with the Italian V4s.

Dorna

Anyway, Viñales didn’t have the grip to stay with the big red Duke and with a third of the distance to go he dropped the pace, Bastianini passed and for the last third of the 27 laps, c It was Ducati on Ducati.

Both drivers know Misano better than anyone. Bastianini was born and raised a few minutes from the track, while the VR46 pilot Bagnaia lives not far from there. Both regularly ride the seaside circuit aboard slick-equipped Panigale V4S superbikes, so they know every bump and ripple. This helped put them in a class of their own.

“The whole race I felt someone was with me,” Bagnaia said. “So I was just thinking, I was trying to be smart, I was trying to be very consistent with the pace and closing the lines, especially in the last part of the race, because I thought it was possible for Enea to overtake.”

Should Bastianini tangle with Bagnaia, he might find his GP23 mysteriously underpowered.

Could Bagnaia cope with Bastianini’s late-race strength, which comes from his ability to pick up speed with the front tyre, allowing him to cradle the rear tyre? And would Bagnaia be the perfect Pecco or the imperfect Pecco, the man who crashed in three of the four races in May and June?

No one knew, including Ducati team manager Davide Tardozzi, who really should have worn a heart monitor again, for our entertainment.