However, the 30-year-old Spaniard’s hopes of backing up his excellent third place at the season-opening Qatar GP ended just after half-distance, when he slid off at Turn Two while holding a strong fourth place.
Despite Espargaro’s misfortune the entertaining race was a fitting end to an extraordinary weekend at Termas. The late arrival of the last cargo flight from the previous race in Indonesia forced the cancellation all Friday track action, with 12 MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 practice and qualifying sessions crammed into yesterday’s programme.
The ultra-tight schedule made life complicated for all riders and teams, who had just one day to prepare for today’s race, at a track which is rarely used and is therefore dirtier and dustier than most.
Espargaro worked well with his Repsol Honda crew and HRC engineers, but a fall during FP2 complicated his situation. However, he recovered brilliantly to go fastest in Q1 and then fourth in Q2, just a fraction of a second off the front row of the grid.
The former Moto2 World Champion knew he faced a challenging battle for the podium, because this is only the third race for the brand-new 2022 RC213V, so the bike is still in its early stages of race development. Espargaro and everyone around him will take the lessons learned here into next weekend’s Grand Prix of the Americas at the Circuit of the Americas.
Honda was victorious at COTA last October, with Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) who is currently continuing his rehabilitation from diplopia, caused by a heavy fall during Sunday morning warm-up for the Indonesian GP.
Honda’s six-times MotoGP king is undergoing regular checks with his medical team and a decision will be made regarding his participation in the USA’s MotoGP round during the next few days.
Following Espargaro’s exit, Honda’s top finisher was Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V), who took 12th place. The 30-year-old from Chiba was second fastest in yesterday’s Q1 session but could do no better than tenth in Q2, which put him on the fourth row of the grid.
Despite riding a storming first lap, during which he fought his way forward, Nakagami couldn’t maintain that performance and slipped back a few places. He spent much of the race in a multi-rider battle, finally finishing less than four seconds behind the eighth finisher.
Nakagami very nearly didn’t compete in this weekend’s event. He tested positive for Covid several days ago and when he finally tested negative there was hardly enough time to make it to Termas. He arrived at the circuit at 09:00 on Saturday morning, lucky that Friday practice had been cancelled, so he started his weekend on the same level as everyone else.
Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) took his second points-scoring result of the season with a ride to 15th position. The 25-year-old Spaniard started from 19th on the grid, so he did well to make his way through the pack into the top 15, despite being hit by another rider at the first corner, which cost him valuable time. Next week during the Grand Prix of the Americas the younger Marquez brother will aim to take another step forward.
Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) took the place of the injured Marc Marquez this weekend. HRC’s test rider was contesting his first race since last October, so it wasn’t an easy weekend for the 32-year-old German and former Moto2 World Champion.
Bradl qualified 24th fastest and finished today’s race in 19th pace. He will know within the next few days if he will replace Marquez once again at COTA.