The plot thickens as the Italian retakes the Championship lead despite Binder refusing to go down easy with Bezzecchi crashing out
Pick a name out of a hat and stick with it as there’s no predicting the action in the 2023 MotoGP™ season. The Gran Premio MotoGP™ Guru by Gryfyn de España did not fail to entertain as the Grand Prix remained completely open right until the final corner.
A heroic comeback from the World Champion Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) saw the number 1 fend off the Tissot Sprint winner Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) who piled on the pressure in a nail-biting final two laps to fall just short of the victory.
Despite Bagnaia snapping up a 22-point lead in the Championship, KTM’s dream weekend continued as Binder consolidated solid points to put himself 3rd in the Championship just 25 points away from Bagnaia, with the previous Championship leader Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) dropping to 2nd after crashing out.
To put the icing on the cake for the Austrian manufacturer, Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) rounded out the Spanish Grand Prix podium having battled hard throughout the race to make it two KTM’s in the top 3 for both the Tissot Sprint and the Grand Prix.
Three into one doesn’t go…
The pressure was on as you could cut the tension with a knife on the grid after the fierce and feisty Tissot Sprint was the perfect precursor to MotoGP™’s first Grand Prix on its return to Europe. The eyes were on the KTM’s as the lights went out and both the factory bikes took to the front with Miller leading Binder and Martin through turn 1.
In the meantime, Fabio Quarararo’s (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) nightmare start to the season continued as the Frenchman crashed out of the race at turn 2. The 2021 World Champion hobbled away after competing for the same inch of tarmac with Miguel Oliveira (CryptoDATA RNF MotoGP™ Team) and Marco Bezzecchi, which saw the Portuguese rider join the Yamaha man in the gravel. Quartararo was fit to restart, Oliveira headed to the medical centre and was diagnosed with a dislocated shoulder.
RED FLAG: Quartararo and Oliveira crash leads to stoppage
The incident brought out the red flags as the air fence had gone down at turn 2. Whilst the necessary safety precautions were put in place the grid were preparing to reset and go again for the restart. But then there was more drama: Quartararo was given a Long Lap penalty for his part in the crash… something that “astonished” Yamaha and the man himself was also angrily puzzled.
Surprise surprise, it was the flying KTM’s once again that took to the front with Binder rolling around the outside of Miller to take the lead, and Martin slotting into 3rd before an incredible round-the-outside move at Pedrosa corner came from the World Champion Bagnaia which stunned fans as he made the impossible possible.
Binder, Miller, Bagnaia, Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing), and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) was the order the first time across the line. It wasn’t long before the KTMs switched places as Miller took the lead in hopes of making himself the first rider in MotoGP™ history to take three victories with three different manufacturers.
With 21 laps to go the KTMs began to pull away from the Ducatis of Bagnaia and Martin, stretching the gap out to just over half a second. Binder then took the lead back from his teammate, whilst Bagnaia had put the afterburners on to set the fastest lap of the race so far and bridge the gap to the leading duo.
Moto3™ or MotoGP™?
Once on the scene, Bagnaia wasted no time in getting past the Aussie, putting his factory Ducati in the tiniest of gaps at Pedrosa corner to sit up the KTM and making a little contact in the process. He raised his had to apologise, Miller raised his to say pfff. The number 43 was then under attack from Martin as well, but snapped straight back at the final corner. That pushed the Pramac well well wide, but no contact there as he slotted back in just behind Aleix Espargaro into fifth.
Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) then crashed out from behind Martin, joining earlier faller Alex Rins (LCR Honda Castrol) as a DNF. And Bezzecchi was just about to join them, the Italian sliding out at Pedrosa, rider ok but ceding that points lead.
Game on in the championship fight
The lead was now there for the taking for Bagnaia, and back at the front, Binder was now six tenths ahead, but as the final few laps dawned the Ducati was gaining, gaining and gaining. At the final corner with four to go, Pecco pounced to perfection and headed over the line in the lead for the final few laps. Could Binder respond?
At first it seemed like a no, but the number 33 dragged the speed from somewhere. He closed back in, and by the final lap it looked plausible if not likely that Binder would get close enough. By the final sector it looked like one motorcycle in the lead, and the last Lorenzo corner was coming. The stage was set for a lunge, but Bagnaia was having none of it. The reigning Champion was incredibly strong on the brakes and shut the door to perfection, leaving Binder to have a brief look but find no way through. Split by just two tenths over the line, it was fitting it went to the wire after a stunning race.
Miller took third place and that’s now premier class podiums with three different bikes, as well as his first GP rostrum visit with KTM. Martin takes fourth place and was fuming at the Australian for his move, and Aleix Espargaro completed the top five.
Title race drama: Bezzecchi crashes out in Jerez!
Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) took sixth in a close, close finish with KTM wildcard and MotoGP™ Legend Dani Pedrosa (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). The number 26 was thousandths off but took another top ten after an incredible weekend on his return to competition. Behind them, Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) took eighth ahead of Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu). One bit of late drama saw Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) lose out on that as a technical problem caused him a last lap DNF.
Champions spirit from the Flying Frenchman
On Quartararo watch, the Frenchman was classified tenth after even more drama. He made progress, did the Long Lap but actually didn’t quite stay in the lines, and then had to do another Long Lap. So the comeback into the top ten was something to write home about. Will we see Yamaha make a statement about the penalty as they did after Assen last season? It seems a story likely to roll on.
With the Championship plot ever-changing in MotoGP™, there’s no telling what the next chapter holds as the paddock moves to the SHARK Grand Prix de France on the 12th – 14th of May. It’s no ordinary race weekend either: it’s the 1000th Grand Prix in history. Home heroes Quartararo and Zarco may have had different ideas of how they’d want to arrive into the weekend, but anything can happen – we’ve already had 10 riders on the GP podium this season and they’re both among them. It’s a date with destiny and history, and you don’t want to miss it!
2. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) +0.221
3. Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) +1.119
4. Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) +1.942
5. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) +4.760
6. Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) +6.329
7. Dani Pedrosa (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) +6.371
8. Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) +14.952
9. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) +15.692
10. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) +15.846