Valencia, the final conclusion to the 2018 session of MotoGP was chaotic from Friday right through until the flag was flown on race day. Michelin had its rain tyres pushed to the limit with grip and performance being heavily relied in such treacherous conditions. The Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valencian was won by Andrea Dovizioso in style after red flags, high sides, boot and sock changes and human error. Second place went to Alex Rins who is on an absolute high and third to Pol Espargaro who provided KTM with their first World Championship podium. No doubt the weather played a large role in the final results although it did not scare away the fans. There were 97,201 people who braved the rain to witness the last race of the year and enjoy every battle regardless of how soaking wet or cold they were in amongst the delays.
History was made in many ways on Sunday with Can Oncu winning the Moto3 class and becoming the youngest ever Grand Prix race winner. The Turkish teenager at 15 years and 115 days old went on to win his first ever Moto3 race as a wildcard. The elation in his face was incredible and another reminder on how hard work pays off in more ways than one: victory, a full time rider in 2019 and proving to the category that he is a worthwhile investment. In contrast, Pol Espargaro was absolutely over the moon by finishing third even after he high sided and remounted his KTM machine. He never gave up. The KTM project has experienced a rollercoaster ride of emotions since it began in the premier class. The Austrian manufacturer is pumping in a lot of cash, time and effort to create a MotoGP bike that in their eyes will be title worthy. Espargaro: “The red flag was like a ‘message’ because the bike was still working after that big crash and I said to myself ‘man, this is your opportunity, take it’. I just pushed and Valentino was so fast, super-fast. I stayed in that position and was safe, then I fought with Dani but could finally finish in third position.” This positive moment will allow the team to carry momentum in to testing and with Johann Zarco arriving, propel them forward at a rapid rate.
In times of chaos, you have to remain calm by bringing down your heart rate and allowing a positive mindset to take control. This is not an easy ability to master. Mike Leitner said it perfectly: “For Pol to recover from a crash, come in and focus again and perform again to make the podium is a wonderful story that I don't think anybody would have believed this morning!” In the sport of MotoGP you need super fit riders and to push hard even after a crash is inspiring. It showcases the will, power and dedication of a team and the leader that being the rider who controls the beast beneath him. Sometimes, even the top class riders make errors. During race day, there were key riders sliding out of contention: Marc Marquez, Maverick Vinales, Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci.
In the sport, you watch every rider closely. Marquez for the previous six races had been hiding a shoulder injury. He dislocated it during a celebration in Japan with Scott Redding and also during qualifying in Valencia. To add salt to the wound, Marquez also high sided during the Valencia race and landed once again on that shoulder. His pain threshold must be high! In times of pain, you can also make the wrong decision and the medium tyre choice by Marquez in the race was a big mistake. He admits the fault and will learn from this error in judgment. He made the call and owned it like a man which is nice to see. Surgery will be required for the Spanish World Champion and no doubt this will be scheduled soon in amongst the demands of testing. We must say that the rain was relentless at the circuit with riders like Rins emptying his boots out of water, changing socks and warming up as the cold temperatures make riding uncomfortable. If you let the coldness take over, your mind can become your worst enemy.
2018 may have finished although 2019 is only hours away! All eyes will be on Jorge Lorenzo as he makes the switch to Repsol Honda and Danilo Petrucci who takes his seat at the factory Ducati team. Both riders are looking forward to their new challenges. Lorenzo: “Even though we know we weren’t able to obtain what we wanted to achieve when I joined Ducati, this year’s wins were really special and I will always have a special place for them in my heart. The rapport with the team has been magnificent: they have always helped me in difficult moments and we have established a friendship that goes beyond mere racing. The professional level of all the engineers and technicians is very high and together we were able to make the Desmosedici GP one of the most competitive bikes on the grid, something that makes me very proud. I also want to thank all the Ducatisti for the support they have given me since the very first day I came to the factory at Borgo Panigale. I will never forget these two years together and a part of my heart will always be a Ducatista.” The harmony within a team is one key aspect to building a successful race package. It will be intriguing to see how Lorenzo adapts to the Honda machine, team morale and being side by side to Marquez. In contrast, Petrucci will have his work cut out for him because it will be succeed or fail at Ducati. It was an emotional send off from Alma Pramac Racing Team as they provided the Italian rider with a lifeline when he joined. Crashing out of contention in the final race was not the send-off Petrucci had wanted considering his strength in rain conditions. As we look back on a memorable 2018 season, it is time to watch the beginning of 2019 come to life with testing on Tuesday and Wednesday. We look forward to seeing the weather turn a page to allow some quality track action.