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MotoGP champion Bagnaia ready to start fast as healthy Marquez frets

MotoGP champion Bagnaia ready to start fast as healthy Marquez frets

MOTO GP: Even before the MotoGP season opens in Portugal on Sunday (Mar 26), defending world champion Francesco Bagnaia appears to hold pole position.


Wednesday 22 March 2023, 10:49AM

Yamaha rider Fabio Quartararo (left) and Ducati Lenovo’s rider Francesco Bagnaia shake hands during a press conference ahead of the MotoGP Valencia Grand Prix last November. Photo: AFP

Yamaha rider Fabio Quartararo (left) and Ducati Lenovo’s rider Francesco Bagnaia shake hands during a press conference ahead of the MotoGP Valencia Grand Prix last November. Photo: AFP

Six-times champion Marc Marquez might be back to full fitness, as his Honda team insists but pre-season testing suggested Bagnaia is again the fastest rider on the fastest bike and is poised to continue the domination he established late last season.

Bagnaia was fastest in the last pre-season tests in Portimao in March on the track where the season starts.

“I’m very happy,” Bagnaia said after smashing the track record. “We are ready at 100 per cent for first race.”

The Italian failed to finish five races last season and at the halfway point, after crashing on lap three in Germany, trailed the 2021 champion Fabio Quartararo by 91 points.

Bagnaia accelerated through the field on his Ducati, winning the next four races. He crashed again in Japan, but also collected another win and three podium finishes in the last six races. Quartararo’s Yamaha could not keep up.

Former team-mate Jack Miller, now at KTM, seeing Bagnaia in pre-season was impressed by the impact of the first title.

“This year he seems more of a changed man, a confident man, and he’s riding pretty impressive,” said the Australian.

In the final testing, only Quartararo, who found some pace on the last day and was third quickest, broke Ducati’s domination of the top eight.

Bagnaia acknowledged teams did not show all their cards in testing but said: “it looks like we have more advantage than last year.”

Ducati’s edge suggests Bagnaia’s main rival may come from across his own garage. Fellow Italian Enea Bastianini, who finished third last season for Ducati’s satellite Gresini has moved up the factory team.

The pair traded barbs last season, but this winter gave a jokey joint interview to the MotoGP web site.

“Like he said last year, he’s a bastard!” ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia said. “Because he pushes like a bastard.

“The battle between us will be intense, but we have to be intelligent and respectful to have a good relationship.”

Bastianini said he would not back down.

“The big difference is Pecco is MotoGP World Champion and me, no!,” he said. “He’s the fastest rider in the world. It is a pleasure to battle, to fight with him this year, and to try to win.”

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The dynamic will also be interesting at Honda.

Marquez, has suffered three seasons ruined by injury and surgery is “now back to full fitness” declared the Honda web site.

As he tries to recapture the form that brought him six titles, Honda have signed another former world champion, fellow Spaniard Joan Mir.

Mir edged Marquez on the final day of testing, but the two Hondas were only 13th and 14th.

“Unfortunately, some of the things that Honda expected would work on track was not working like we expected,” Marquez said. “If tomorrow was the race with the conditions we had on track we can fight for fifth to 10th, I believe.”

Marquez was also unhappy with continued innovations.

In Portimao, Aprilia unveiled bikes with wings on the front fork among a series of aerodynamic additions. Yamaha then introduced a wing sticking up from the bike’s tail, looking as if it had been borrowed from a Formula One car.

One purpose of such additions is to roil the air for bikes behind. Marquez, the master of the unforeseen overtake, does not like it.

“It’s getting more and more difficult to follow riders,” he said. “For the show, I feel it’s not the best way.”

Despite offering more overtaking and more crashes, that show is falling behind F1 in the race for viewers.

One ominous sign was that Amazon abandoned a second season of a reality series called MotoGP Unlimited, although one on Marquez is planned.

MotoGP is trying to offer more viewing and emulating F1 by adding a half-length, half points, sprint race. Unlike F1, it will be sprinting every Saturday.

It will give the Ducatis two chances to win each weekend.

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