This is it! Hear from Bagnaia, Martin, and a host of riders heading for pastures new (probably!) with our Thursday rundown
Here we go. It’s time to decide the 2023 MotoGP™ World Champion and we know one thing for sure: it’s going to be Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) or Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing). Split by 21 points on the way in but with a maximum of 37 still on the table, there’s everything to play for.
On Thursday, the two posed for a photo op on the main straight and then headed the press conference billing as the first line-up of the day. The next? A motley crew of familiar, successful and relevant faces as we prepare for the last Grand Prix of the season: Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), Qatar GP winner Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), the returning Alex Rins (LCR Honda Castrol), and 2023 Moto2™ World Champion Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo).
Here are some quotes, photos and postcards from that face-to-face #PECCOvsMARTIN picture on the main straight.
LINE UP: BAGNAIA – MARTIN
Does it feel any different to a year ago?
FRANCESCO BAGNAIA: “Honestly, two points less than last year but 12 more to gain. So for sure it’s a different situation with 37 points available every weekend. Let’s see, it will be important to start well tomorrow and have a good feeling, and then in practice we need to really be pushing to be in the top ten but I’m quite sure that this track with the new surface will be very good for us.”
Is it a case of attack being the best form of defence this weekend?
“I will do the maximum for sure. Tomorrow it will be very important to understand everything and on Saturday, for sure it will be very important to be competitive and try to win the Sprint, and then on Saturday afternoon, decide the strategy for Sunday’s race. The goal will be to start on the front row and push in Sprint race to have the possibility to win.”
How difficult would it be to do it on Saturday?
“The hopes are to try to win the championship on Saturday, but you know if I see the risk is too high. I will take whatever the result we get and try again on Sunday. For sure we’re in a better situation than Jorge but 21 points are never enough to be calm.”
How hard is it to treat it like a normal weekend when the Championship is at stake?
“For sure in some situations you’re actually the most calm and people around you are the most anxious. Last year when I was eating lunch before the race. I was calm and just thinking about my things. Normally I eat a lot, but this time it was all friends and family eating all the food as they were feeling a lot more pressure than me, but I have to say that on Sunday last year I was feeling a lot of pressure before the start and it wasn’t easy for sure, but I think this year I understand it a lot better. I’ve learnt a lot from the first year so I think I’ll be able to manage it better, but the pressure will grow day by day.”
What will it mean to you if you win it back-to-back?
“From what I remember just Vale and Marc have done it so it would be really great to reach this kind of goal but it’s something I can’t think about right now. I just need to think about tomorrow and try and enjoy my riding. I know this is a good track for us, and it will be good to be competitive.”
Valentino will be here this year too… is it important to have him around?
“Yes absolutely, it will be important because he’s faced many different situations and it could be a great help to have him by my side and trying to understand everything. For sure it’s something extra to have on my skill list!”
How confident are you that you can turn it around?
JORGE MARTIN: “It’s a bit more difficult for sure. I think the way we were coming was good, we were recovering points in a good way but now I’m a bit far. I’m quite relaxed. I understood after Qatar it’s a bit difficult to win. I’m happy with all the season I did. I will try enjoy the weekend, win both races. I think I’m capable of doing that at a track I really enjoy. I’m really fast here so let’s go for it and try win both!”
Looking back on Sunday in Qatar… has it been difficult?
“For me it was quite easy to forget about. I understood it wasn’t my fault. I was trying to help my people to be happy, it should be the other way around. It is what it is, I don’t want to think about it more but just focus on this weekend. In the past 21 points were a lot but now not so much, we still have our chance. Whatever comes is good. If we finish second, it is good, if we win awesome.”
Any answers from what went wrong in Qatar?
“Not yet, for sure it was a hard race. I struggled from the first lap. I don’t have any answers yet. These things need time to analyse. Maybe I spoke too much after the race, but you know, I’m an impulsive person. We don’t know what happened exactly but maybe in one or two months we’ll know.”
On his record in Valencia:
“I didn’t like it when I was in Moto3 but as soon as I won my first race in 2017, I started loving it! Now it’s a track I really enjoy, I’m always fast, always have a great pace and yeah I did the last two pole positions. I am confident. It is a track where we can win both of them, but the problem is even winning both of them may not be enough.”
You’re also Teams’ Champions, are you proud to be part of it?
“I’m so proud of this team. When I arrived, we weren’t even in the top three and this year we won. For a satellite team it’s really important and big thing to beat all the factory teams. I’m really proud of them. I think I have everything to fight for title in the future also. I’m really happy to be here and hopefully we can do it in the next seasons.”
LINE UP: MARINI – DIGGIA – MARC MARQUEZ – RINS – ACOSTA
Can we expect you on a different bike on Tuesday?
LUCA MARINI: “Yeah, I think news will come soon so there’s not many things I can say at the moment so we will see in the next few days.”
If you are a factory rider… are you ready for that?
“Yes, in my opinion, I’m feeling great and improving a lot and it’s always been my dream to be in a factory team and to develop a bike to bring a manufacturer to victory. So in my opinion, this is the right moment. There was this opportunity because after Marc’s decision, which was a big shock for everyone. But I think also maybe in the future if not next year it was something that was going to happen so now there is a good opportunity for me and I will try to do my best and this is the maximum I can say for now.”
What can you say about what VR46 has done for your career?
“It was a fantastic journey. I’ve shared the best moments of my career with this team and I want to say thank you to all the group that we have now, but also the members that were a part of the group in the past years and in Moto2. I’ve enjoyed every moment and I want to enjoy it even more this weekend here in Valencia because we have something more to do also here.”
What do you think? It’s possible here this weekend?
“I think that this track is always very difficult and the qualifying is very important because it’s difficult to overtake. The tarmac is also new so this could change something and also it will be difficult with the cold temperatures in terms of tires, but I remember the last season at the test I was first with a very good feeling with the bike, so I think that we start with a good base so let’s see after the Friday practice sessions what my position is.”
Still on cloud nine after Qatar?
FABIO DI GIANNANTONIO: “It has been amazing. An amazing feeling, an amazing energy all around me. It was fantastic and I can say that I’ve watched it between 20 and 25 times! I’ve spent a lot of time in front of my phone watching the race so yeah, it’s been super special!”
How was the call with your dad?
“A lot of tears for sure! For him, its been his dream since I was a little kid. When you achieve something big, you always think of the moments when you are a little kid with your father and mother and little motor. The early days, you don’t think much about the future, you are just with a little pocket bike and you start to enjoy. Suddenly you are a MotoGP rider and you won your first race so for sure it was a great moment to see my father on the phone and yeah…. Cheer for this!”
Back-to-back potential winner? Does he believe?
“We are in a good moment. We’ve been fast everywhere let’s say. In Qatar we were super fast. We are in a good way but for sure a lot of riders will be fast. We all start from zero. I think a lot of riders will have a chance to win on Sunday. Let’s see, maybe we can do another good job and from my side I want to do a good job in my last race for Gresini.”
And what about a 2024 ride?
“I was super proud of Paolo’s words. He has been so good to me so yeah I’m super proud. Let’s say that I’ve come with a helmet and a suit to test on Tuesday. We are working on something cool. We have good chances to test on Tuesday and now we have a little more chance to be on the grid in 2024.”
VR46, would it be cool to ride with Rossi’s team?
“Since it is only the bike available…once Luca makes the announcement! For sure it is a great team. Their work behind the scenes is amazing. What they do in the academy all together with the guys, and also, all the staff they have, they have been super good. They started in Moto3, and then to Moto2 and MotoGP. They’ve always been super good in every class so that means they are a really good team. It would be an amazing experience and challenge and an opportunity to learn a lot of things.
Will it be an emotional weekend?
MARC MARQUEZ: “Of course, it is a special weekend and it’ll be a super difficult weekend to control emotions and be focussed on track. I don’t like to say that it will be my last race with Honda because you never know, but it will be the end of an era and the end of a nice chapter where we’ve achieved six world championships in 11 years which have been amazing. But it is true that this weekend I want to enjoy myself on track and I want to enjoy all the moments because next year you know it will be difficult to imagine me working with another group, but in the end it was my decision and yeah it’s what I want to do. I enjoy everything with them because they are my friends and we have an incredible relationship but yeah I’m looking forward to finishing the season in a good way.”
Best three moments with Honda?
“I would pick six, my six world championships. The photos that are on here on the helmet. The last one that was the last podium in Motegi. It’s something super special for me. The best moment was 2013 when we won the title in the first year that we arrived in MotoGP. Boom we exploded. Everything started there and it was amazing, then of course I’m super lucky because I’ve had many many good moments and I can’t just choose one.”
What do you think? What do you think it’s possible this weekend?
“I don’t know. It’s a circuit and the layout that I like, but I’ve been struggling in the races so let’s see where we are on Friday and where we are during the weekend. Of course, I can’t try any crazy things but we need to be realistic and yeah I need to do my best as I have done in the past races and let’s see, but the first goal is to try and enjoy the weekend with all my people.”
How excited are you to try the Ducati?
“I’m sorry but I won’t speak about it, especially because I have huge respect for Honda and to my team and my full commitment will be until the last lap in Valencia, so yeah I’m just focus on this weekend and then on Monday, we will start working with the next year’s team.”
ALEX RINS: “Honestly, after the last GP weekend in Australia, we did an x-ray in Melbourne Saturday morning because I was feeling a lot of muscular pain in my leg. It looked like I had a hernia so we flew directly to Madrid to make a surgery to improve this pain. They opened in the morning, and then at night I left the hospital. The doctors did a fantastic job. I walked home as the pain improved immediately. The last month I’ve been working as hard as possible at home to be here in Valencia. It’s a shame it is the last race because now I’m feeling more or less better than before. Anyways, we have this weekend to enjoy and to ride, and to say goodbye to LCR. It is an amazing team, we had a very difficult season with injury, but we did a great result in Austin to get the victory so I would like to just enjoy the final GP.”
Riding now pain free?
“I rode the production bike in Montmelo. It was quite nice. In Montmelo it is right then left and then the long right corner and I had zero pain. We need to remember it is a production bike and not a MotoGP bike, the power and brakes are not the same, but it was a great test.”
Timeframe for 100% fitness?
“To be 100%, it was not a regular fracture. It was not a clean fracture. So the be at 100%, they said I need nine to ten months to recover everything but now we are in a good shape. The pain is very low during the day. I am walking perfect. I think the next step is to jump on the bike, we have more muscle on the leg than before, so I think it is going to be ok.”
And on his Yamaha debut on Tuesday?
I’m looking forward to it. It’s a big challenge. It will be difficult but I did it last year. It was not easy because you change everything, your team, your group, your crew chief. It won’t be easy but for sure, I mean tomorrow id Friday, we have three days to ride in Valencia on new tarmac so let’s enjoy.”
PEDRO ACOSTA: “It’s going to be difficult to manage all the emotions, so I’m trying to focus on enjoying my last Moto2 race, with the fans and the team, because it’s also my last weekend with them. it’s not going to be so easy. But I’m more focused on Monday, not Tuesday, to understand how a MotoGP team works, how the KTM project goes in one way. I’ll have a long winter to think about it but for now it’s just a moment to try and enjoy it, get to know everyone in the team and understand how to ride these MotoGP bikes.”
What are you most looking forward to, the power, carbon brakes?
“Both. In the end I just want to understand how to ride this bike fast. I want to understand how a MotoGP team is working, how everyone in the team is working, I know KTM put a lot of guys from the factory at Tech 3 and I think that will help a lot to have a fast way to understand how to ride.”
Biggest thing learned with the Ajo team?
“Racing is easy if you take it easy! We’re here living the dream, I will say but we’re still the same ‘lucky bastards’ as before! I don’t know, it as so nice to spend three years with Aki, he helped me a lot just more to understand how life is. I was so young when I arrived here, I don’t know. It’s going to be nice to feel the emotions that are going to come.”
And that pesky number question…
“You’ll see on Tuesday morning! Don’t worry. When you open the garage, you’re going to see!”
Or visit the official MotoGP website www.motogp.com