Red Bull KTM lifted their sixth trophy of 2020 MotoGP as Pol Espargaro finished in the top three for the fourth time this season at a sunny Ricardo Tormo Circuit for the Gran Premio de Europa. Raul Fernandez recorded his first visit to the top step in Moto3 and Jorge Martin was runner-up in Moto2 to complete a successful Sunday for the Red Bull KTM Ajo crew.
After two days of showers and mixed conditions the first of two races at the flat and curvy circuit in Valencia took place under late autumn sunshine and temperatures that creeped as high as 25 degrees. Red Bull KTM tackled the 27-laps of the thirteenth round of the condensed 2020 MotoGP season with all three of their active riders in strong grid positions: Pol Espargaro conquered the difficult damp track on Saturday to register his second Pole Position of the season (and of his career). Red Bull KTM Tech3’s Miguel Oliveira had placed 1st in Q1 and seized 8th on the grid after the Q2 session, elevated to 7th after a sanction for Aleix Espargaro. Brad Binder explored the limits of grip and traction with his KTM RC16 to sit a promising 10th.
Iker Lecuona was forced to miss the Grand Prix due to Covid-19 quarantine rules after his brother and personal assistant had tested positive for the virus. The Red Bull KTM Tech3 rider had returned a negative test but still had to isolate at his residence. KTM instead looked to their trio of Spanish, Portuguese and South African racers to extend their podium count to six for 2020.
Dry asphalt meant the Sunday morning Warm-up period became essential for the teams to refine their ‘dry race’ settings. Espargaro led from Pole Position and then circulated inside the top three for the entire distance. The gap to Alex Rins and Joan Mir ahead grew and shrank by tenths of a second but Espargaro could not get close enough to risk an attack for the second step of the rostrum. He crossed the line in 3rd place, just a second behind winner Mir and for the 49th trophy of his career.
Oliveira had a race-long tussle with Takaaki Nakagami and rode to 5th and his third top-five of 2020. Binder, who was obliged to take a Long Lap penalty after his part in the second corner crash at the Gran Premio Liqui Moly de Teruel two weeks ago, fought back with impressive pace. The rookie clocked the fastest lap of the race with five circulations to go and pushed all the way to 7th for this third-highest result of the season.
Pol Espargaro: “It was hard, so tough with these guys. They were fast but I was catching back on brakes. I lost a bit of corner speed and through the apex but we went for the hard front and medium rear tires and it was a perfect choice. We had zero data for that selection but we gambled and I was gaining time. I’m really pleased. Another podium for KTM and myself, a great feeling.”
Miguel Oliveira: “I’m happy. I think the strategy in Warm-Up paid off for the race. We managed to have a good balance with the bike and a good setting. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep the pace seven-eight laps to the end. After a couple of moments almost crashing, I decided to calm down and bring the bike to the garage, still make a good race and score decent points for the team.”
Brad Binder: “The race started OK but I got a bit boxed-in through the first two-three corners. I didn’t want to take too much of a risk with the full fuel tank and I knew the Long Lap penalty was coming early on. As soon as I did it I dropped down the order and worked to catch back up but then Cal Crutchlow crashed in front of me and I had to run off the track! I lost a few more seconds that lap. The comeback was not bad. I felt good and the bike worked really well today. Even when the tires were used we could keep the same lap-times. It was a shame about the result because we had the pace for much better but I’m really happy and I think we can do a good job next weekend.”
Mike Leitner, Red Bull KTM Race Manager: “The weekend started well with Pol’s Pole Position but Miguel and Brad were also in the top ten so we were competitive in those wet conditions. Then race day changed a lot and tire choice was very difficult; we didn’t have enough dry laps to make a thorough set-up for the bike but the RC16 was still strong enough to fight for those results. Pol was excellent and Miguel had a superb race to the top five and bravo to Brad for coming back all that way. All three bikes in the top seven is a pretty great day for us and I have to thank the whole team and the factory. In 2018 we took our first podium here and you can see now the amount of progress we have made in such a short time. We hope we can continue like this.”
Moto2 & Moto3
Moto3 Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Raul Fernandez emotionally celebrated his maiden Grand Prix win after a breakaway performance from the front row of the grid Sunday morning. The Spaniard was able to profit from a crash by Celestino Vietti that also affected Alonso Lopez and Albert Arenas (the Spaniard suffered damage to his KTM RC4 in the incident and despite pitting for repairs was eventually black-flagged). Fernandez was able to maintain a two second gap over three other riders pushing for podium spots and swept to his first ’25 points’ in only his second full season in Moto3. It was the second win in three years for the Red Bull KTM Ajo team in Valencia and the seventh in total for the KTM RC4 in 2020.
Raul Fernandez: “Incredible! It feels like it’s been many races to get this feeling. I don’t really have words. My first podium was great but this will be with me all my life. I want to thank my family and my team. We’ll still aim to improve for next weekend but we’ll enjoy this win!”
Jorge Martin took his Red Bull KTM Ajo machine to 2nd place in Moto2 to crown a rewarding weekend for the team. The Spaniard returned to the top three of the class for the fifth time in 2020. Teammate Tetsuta Nagashima rode to 12th.
The 2020 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup reached round ten with the second race of the weekend in Valencia. David Salvador had claimed victory on Saturday but as the light dipped on Sunday afternoon it was Daniel Holgado who won the final outing at the Gran Premio de Europa. Pedro Acosta made sure of 2nd place and was crowned 2020 champion with two races still to go. The Red Bull MotoGP Rookies will be in action again next weekend in Valencia.
Pedro Acosta: “This feels amazing, an amazing season. I want to say thanks to all those at the Rookies Cup. I had nothing to ride at the end of last year and they gave me an opportunity. So thanks again and to all those who have supported me.”
MotoGP looks to the penultimate fixture for 2020 with the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana on November 15th.
Results MotoGP Gran Premio de Europa 2020
1. Joan Mir (ESP), Suzuki 41:37.297
2. Alex Rins (ESP), Suzuki +0.651
3. Pol Espargaro (ESP), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing +1.203
4. Takaaki Nakagami (JPN) Honda +2.194
5. Miguel Oliveira (POR), Red Bull KTM Tech3 +8.046
7. Brad Binder (RSA), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing +10.137
Results Moto2 Gran Premio de Europa 2020
1. Marco Bezzecchi (ITA) 40:06.441
2. Jorge Martin (ESP) Red Bull KTM Ajo +1.941
3. Remy Gardner (AUS) +3.553
12. Tetsuta Nagashima (JPN) Red Bull KTM Ajo +13.209
Results Moto3 Gran Premio de Europa 2020
1. Raul Fernandez (ESP) Red Bull KTM Ajo 38:29.140
2. Sergio Garcia (ESP) Honda +0.703
3. Ai Ogura (JPN) Honda +1.005