Australia’s Gardner earns career-best Moto2 result in Spain.
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) claimed the final MotoGP victory of 2018 at Valencia, finishing ahead of an on-form Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and a stunning result for Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) as the Spaniard took his first premier class podium and the first for KTM in MotoGP.
The dramatic race was red-flagged and restarted in heavy rain at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, and saw a large number of riders fall foul of the tough conditions – not least reigning champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Movistar Yamaha MotoGP duo Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi.
On the original start, Rins had destroyed the field to gain a huge lead after only a couple of corners, and the rain was falling but not heavy. The conditions remained difficult, however, and a good few big names – including some wet specialists – found themselves sliding out.
They included a highside that skittled Marquez into the gravel from podium contention, and a high-speed tumble for Vinales after a good initial getaway. Pol Espargaro crashed out of P4 at turn four after a stunning start, but he was incredibly able to re-join.
Brother Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), Australian Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing), teammate Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) and Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) also all crashed out and couldn’t get back in it, but Rossi at that stage was only getting faster as the rain was getting worse.
Eventually, however, the volume of rain was starting to beat the circuit’s ability to drain and the red flag came out. The race would be re-started for 14 laps, and the grid would be decided by the standings as of the last completed lap – meaning it was Rins on pole, Dovizioso second, Rossi third and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) lining up fourth in his final race. 14 laps and the end of an era for many.
The front row held station as the lights went out for ‘race two’ and all 16 riders safely negotiated the opening exchanges, with Rins leading. However, Dovizioso was once again able to get the power down on his GP18 to slice past Rins heading onto lap two – with Rossi in close pursuit. The three leaders quickly gapped fourth place Espargaro by 2.9 seconds, and Pedrosa tucked in behind the KTM in P5.
By then, the rain was starting to fall once again and conditions were still incredibly tough. Nevertheless, the leading trio were all lapping in the low 1m43s – two seconds quicker than anyone else as it soon became a three horse race for the final win of 2018.
On lap six, Dovizioso then pulled the pin to create a one-second gap back to Rins – a 1m49.921s creating that gap, with 1.5 seconds then splitting the trio. Another fastest lap soon followed for Dovi, as Rossi made his move past Rins at turn four – 1.5 seconds down on ‘DesmoDovi’.
However, with six to go, the gap was up to 2.4 seconds and a lap later, the Ducati rider’s lead was over three seconds. But then, the drama hit again and ‘The Doctor’ was down at turn 12 – rider ok, but lifting Espargaro and KTM up to a podium place. As the last lap began, Dovizioso’s advantage was four seconds to Rins as both safely waded their way to the finish line – the Italian taking his first win since Misano and Rins grabbing a fifth podium of the year to claim P5 in the championship.
Then, emotional scenes followed as Espargaro kept Michele Pirro (Ducati Team) at bay to take both his and KTM’s maiden MotoGP podium – phenomenal from rider and factory alike after the number 44 rider had crashed earlier, remounted and dueled both Repsol Hondas. After a difficult season for the Austrian marque with injury struggles, it made for an incredible dose of oxygen, so said Espargaro.
Behind him and Pirro came the new MotoGP Legend: Pedrosa. The ‘Little Samurai’ took home a hard-earned P5 from his farewell Grand Prix ride on home soil as he helped Repsol Honda secure the triple crown. Behind the three-time champion was fellow Honda rider Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), the Japanese rookie taking home a career-best P6 as top Independent Team rider in the race, with Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) taking the overall 2018 Independent Team rider honours after crossing the line in P7.
The Frenchman held off Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), who grabbed his best KTM result on his final ride for the team. Replacement rider Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda Castrol) crossed the line in P9, with Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) rounding out the top ten – a great ride, but not quite enough to beat Morbidelli to ‘Rookie of the Year’.
On his final grand prix appearance, Scott Redding (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) claimed a season-best P11, with Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) bringing his Ducati career to an end with a tough P12 on the comeback from injury. Rossi remounted to ride to P13 and P3 in the championship, with Karel Abraham (Angel Nieto Team) and Jordi Torres (Reale Avintia Racing) claiming the final point-scoring positions. Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team) crashed out of his final Grand Prix race with seven to go – rider ok.
In his 50th Moto2 race, Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) produced a faultless ride to take his third victory of the season in the 2018 finale in Spain. The Portuguese rider won by an impressive 13-second margin over first-time podium finisher Iker Lecuona (Swiss Innovative Investors), as Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) completed the podium – despite crashing out the lead. Fourthwas taken out by Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team), as Australiam Remy Gardner (Tech3 Racing) earned a career-best finish of fifth.
It didn’t seem like a day for history to be made when the final grand prix began to wake up to a rain-soaked Sunday. It seemed like a day to endure, to be cautious – to take the points and not the risk. It seemed a day more likely to be defined by attrition rather than heroics, but Can Oncu (Red Bull KTM Ajo) ensured it becomes much more than that.
Taking his first Moto3 win as a wildcard, in his first appearance, at 15 years and 115 days old, the Turkish rider is the youngest ever grand prix winner, the first rider to win his first race since Noboru Ueda in the 125 race in Japan in 1991, and the first grand prix winner from the Asia Talent Cup.
If that wasn’t enough, he did it in some serious style – crossing the line four seconds clear of reigning champion Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) in second and another two ahead of John McPhee (CIP – Green Power).