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Slide, burn and turn! Catalan MotoGP 2023

Published On:: 4/9/2023

The Mediterranean skies could have been a bit bluer…but the heat was still cranked-up for round eleven of 2023 MotoGP and another enthralling episode of this season’s frenetic narrative.

The ‘Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya’ was almost another playground for world champion Pecco Bagnaia to rasp his Ducati into the mix and inject the late-summer party vibe of this popular fixture with extra adrenaline, but the Italian ended up with a lucky escape.


Most of the chat coming into the first race of the second half of the ’23 slate was about Mooney VR46’s Marco Bezzecchi: Valentino Rossi’s latest protégé to make his mark on motorcycle racing. Where would #73 ride in 2024? The ‘will-he-won’t-he saga’ was decided when Marco turned down the chance of a factory Ducati to remain in Rossi’s productive custody. “Sometimes the human side is just as important as the bike,” he said in Catalunya on Thursday. Bezz had the pre-event headlines, but friend and VR46 academy stablemate Bagnaia had the stats. 


Bagnaia had reveled in seven podium finishes, five wins and four Sprint gold medals heading to Barcelona, even though the track had not been too kind to him in the past. Pecco been torpedoed entering the first corner in 2022 and had never finished higher than 6th at the venue. He tackled that handicap with a deft touch on Saturday by busting the lap record to take Pole Position and then battering the group of roaming Aprilias – the Italian bikes were impressively competitive around the rhythm and flow of the circuit and in the hands of Aleix Espargaro, Maverick Viñales and Miguel Oliveira – to take 2nd in the Sprint.


Sunday was the usual fare for this Grand Prix: low grip, high stakes, high attrition. Riders had to nurse tire life, especially for the right-hand side of the rubber needed for ten of the fourteen corners, and make a strategy for the shiny, slick asphalt. 


But Sunday saw disaster again for Bagnaia as the Catalan curse struck. A spectacular highside crash while leading out of the second corner tossed him to the ground and the pursuing Brad Binder made contact with #1. Early reports on Sunday afternoon seemed to indicate that Pecco was bashed and bruised but had escaped significant injury. 


Red flag. Restart. Reset. Aleix Espargaro then drove the native crowd hoarse with a home victory on the Aprilia. The 71,000 gathering of the bike-mad masses had already been partying in the Monster Energy Compound with vast rig riots, extreme show from the Harley-stunt kings Unknown Industries. The Saturday Sprint podium ceremony in the confines of the compound was the sickest fan interaction moment of the championship to-date as the two Aprilias and Bagnaia’s Ducati cooled on stage. The cheers continued through the Sunday cool-down lap for Espargaro. 

Bezzecchi lamented a poor start and difficulty with tires to take 12th. It wasn’t his day. But there was some relief for Monster Energy Yamaha Fabio Quartararo in the Spanish sun. 


The 2021 world champ had claimed the Grand Prix in 2022 and celebrated Moto2 success at the track in 2018 but the continuing difficulty to make his Monster Energy Yamaha M1 harness the full potential of the Michelins meant he was eyeing the top five at best on Sunday. Quartararo’s ‘Joker’ helmet design was seriously cool and deserved more TV exposure than it found, with the Frenchmen mired in the mid-top ten. He did manage to swat away Jack Miller’s attentions and his 7th place was a ‘PB’ since his home GP in France in May. Fabio’s easy reaction to the result is only matched by the acceptance and determination to turn around the Japanese firm’s fortunes. The San Marino GP is next, followed by a crucial one-day test that will feed into the next generation of the M1. 2024 can only be better. 


“For me it was a good day, especially because we went back to last year’s base for the bike. It was OK in warm-up so we followed that line. I could make a good pace. Not too bad,” FQ said. “Mentally it is complicated to go from winning here by six seconds to now finish ten seconds away. It is difficult, but I think they [Yamaha] know how important Misano is, then Misano to the beginning of pre-season which is six months. This will decide many things for ’24 and the future.”


For all those that toiled with the low grip in Barcelona, another shot at glory will come in only a few days on Italy’s Adriatic coastline at round twelve of the season – ‘Gran Premio Red Bull di San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini’. It would be the last dance on European soil before MotoGP get mobile and very international.


In This Article:

Fabio Quartararo

Marco Bezzecchi

Francesco Bagnaia

Franco Morbidelli