After 18 years in the sport, 284 grands prix, and 200 starts in the top flight, Aleix Espagraro has finally earned a grand prix victory.
It is also Aprilia’s first ever win in the modern MotoGP era, seven long years after their return to the sport in 2015. The Spaniard has worked with the Noale outfit since 2017, and has faced the ups and extreme downs of developing a struggling factory with limited budget compared to its competitors. The tireless work however has finally paid off as he dominated the Argentina weekend, and won his maiden MotoGP race before his highly-rated brother Pol Espargaro, who crashed out of a podium battle today.
Starting from pole, Aleix launched off well but it was Jorge Martin who took the lead from 2nd. The two immediately began pulling away from the next group consisting of Pol, and the Suzuki pair of Alex Rins and Joan Mir. Luca Marini, who started 3rd, briefly challenged for the top 5 before quickly dropping his pace. Aleix and Martin frequently exchanged fastest laps while pulling tenths away from Pol and Rins, who were swapping places numerous times for the final podium spot before the younger Espargaro eventually slid out of the second turn, the same turn that claimed Johann Zarco earlier in the race.
Aleix eventually got close enough to pull a move on Martin on the back straight, but failed two attempts as he overshot the apex on both occasions. After playing it smart for a few more laps, he finally succeeded on his third attempt with a superb block pass for the lead with four and a half laps to go. Despite taking the lead, Martin was not easy to shake off at all as the Pramac rider still tailed the Aprilia for the remainder of the race. However, his best efforts were not enough and Aleix Espargaro went on to make history with an emotional victory for the Noale factory. Martin crossed the line 8 tenths later, while Rins completed the podium finishing only half a second behind Martin. Mir took a solid 4th, also half a second behind his teammate while still seeking his first podium of the season.
After another poor run all weekend, Pecco Bagnaia managed to salvage a top five finish for Ducati after a race-long battle with Brad Binder and Maverick Vinales, who finished 6th and 7th respectively, as the trio spent a good chunk of the race trying to find their way past Luca Marini.
Fabio Quartararo was one of the two Yamaha finishers in 8th, four seconds off the pack in front of him as woes continue for the Iwata factory. Rookie Marco Bezzecchi scores his first points of the season, finishing an impressive 9th and beating his teammate Marini in the process. He finished tenths ahead of Enea Bastianini, who splits the VR46 riders as the Gresini man struggled to replicate his Qatar form. Marini crossed the line 11th, narrowly beating Taka Nakagami by four hundredths of a second. Mandalika victor Miguel Oliveira struggled with his pace once again, finishing 13th just four tenths behind the Japanese. Jack Miller followed closely to finish 14th, a weekend to forget as well for the Australian.
The final point was taken by Alex Marquez, the first rider outside the 20-second interval. Raul Fernandez, still seeking his first MotoGP points, finished 2.4 seconds behind Marquez in 16th, beating his teammate Remy Gardner who pipped Darryn Binder to the line once again, as they both finished 17th and 18th respectively. Stefan Bradl was the last to cross the finish line on the lead lap, standing in for Marc Marquez in Repsol Honda once again after the Spaniard picked up an injury from a nasty highside in the previous round’s warm-up session, where he got a concussion and has since been diagnosed with diplopia. The German will substitute for the season until Marquez is fit to ride again.
Andrea Dovizioso’s nightmares continued as he had to pull into the pitlane in the opening lap, as his front ride height device was jammed to the low position and had to be repaired by the team. The Italian rejoined the race and finished last, three laps down.
Johann Zarco was the first faller of the day, sliding out of the second turn shortly after passing fellow Frenchman Fabio Quartararo, while Pol Espargaro would fall on the same turn nine laps later. Fabio DiGiannantonio fell off with three laps to go, once again leaving the race empty handed as he still hunts for his first points. The only technical retirement of the day was Franco Morbidelli, who limped his bike back to the pits early in the race after suffering an apparent tyre puncture. It was another weekend to forget for Yamaha, with two of their four riders suffering technical issues and a best finish of 8th.
Aleix Espargaro’s victory means that he now leads the world championship with 45 points, while Brad Binder still maintains his runner-up spot with 38 points. Enea Bastianini sits third, two points behind the South African, while Alex Rins shares the same amount of points in 4th. Fabio Quartararo covers the top five, one point behind Rins and Bastianini. We now look forward onto the Grand Prix of The Americas in a week’s time, where we will very likely see a new winner as Marc Marquez, dubbed as the ‘COTA King’, is still on his road to recovery after the injuries sustained in the Indonesian Grand Prix.
Featured Image – Aprilia Racing, motogp.com, Dorna Sports