MotoGP: Oliveira plays his cards to perfection to put KTM back on top in Barcelona
Sunday, 06 June 2021
Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) put in an outstanding performance in the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya to take back to the top step, the Portuguese rider storming Barcelona for back-to-back podium finishes and his first win in Red Bull KTM Factory Racing colours. First he out-duelled Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) to keep the lead before just outpacing Johann Zarco after a late charge from the Pramac Racing rider. The number 5 took second, with Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) completing the podium. The Australian crossed the line fourth, behind Quartararo, but was promoted to third following the first of two penalties for El Diablo on Sunday.
Miguel Oliveira: “From my perspective it was hard to understand what was going on behind me, I knew at the beginning there were a couple of switches in position for second place. I got the little gap, I was comfortable and could be gentle with the tyres, do my lines and not make any mistakes, and I think that was the key. It was hard for everyone I guess, but for me it was extra hard because I had the hard front tyre. The last eight laps it was not for me to stay on and not crash!”
Miller was king of the brakes into Turn 1 to take the holeshot off the front row, blocking Quartararo as Oliveira then shuffled the Frenchman down to third too. El Diablo, in a very busy opening handful of laps, looked a bit impatient and a mistake at Turn 7 saw him drop to P5, with Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) making a phenomenal start from 10th to get into the top three in the early stages. Oliveira then took the lead from Miller on Lap 2 and was able to stretch a one-second advantage out, but Quartararo was able to carve his way back up to P2 by Lap 7.
Oliveira was doing an outstanding job out front, but some low 1:40s saw Quartararo able to reel the KTM back in, with Mir, Miller and Zarco line astern behind the World Championship leader. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) lurked too, two seconds off the top five in P6 and P7.
On Lap 12, Quartararo made his move for the lead. A good exit from Turn 4 saw the Frenchman able to slice his way up the inside of Oliveira at Turn 5, but the latter returned the favour at the start of Lap 14. The KTM grunt, coupled with a dose of slipstream, saw Oliveira able to stick with the Frenchman and then re-take the lead into Turn 1, with just 1.3 covering the front five: Oliveira, Quartararo, Mir, Miller, and Zarco.
By nine to go, Oliveira and Quartararo were edging clear but Zarco and Miller were both past Mir and just 1.2 behind Quartararo, who, in turn, was staying tucked up behind the race-leading KTM. Who had something to spare?
By five to go, Zarco had closed the gap to the front two to under a second and it was fourth place Miller who was the fastest of the leading quartet. And with four to go, Oliveira was really starting to stretch his legs again, suddenly 0.9 clear of Quartararo as the latter had his closest title rival homing in on him: Zarco.
The Pramac Racing Ducati tagged on and then passed Quartararo on the straight, the Yamaha following that up with a moment at Turn 1. The polesitter was forced to run wide and slotted back on track in P3, and we saw a unique situation unfold – Quartararo’s leathers were undone, his chest protector was thrown clear and Miller was right behind him after his off-track excursion too.
Up ahead, Zarco was just half a second down on Oliveira as the riders headed onto the last lap, and the Frenchman had been 0.4 quicker on the previous lap. Could he do it? The gap was down to under four tenths through the second split but the Ducati man wasn’t close enough into Turn 10, the last real overtaking spot, and in the end he was forced to settle for second. Oliveira held his nerve to claim a phenomenal Catalan GP victory: his first in factory colours, his third in MotoGP™ and third for KTM, making it back-to-back podiums after his second place at Mugello.
Zarco took the flag just 0.175 behind in a marvellous second place, and Quartararo was handed a three-second penalty for gaining an advantage when going wide at Turn 1. That put Miller on the podium as the Australian had another good weekend, starting to rake in some serious points after a tougher start to the year.
Quartararo was classified fourth in the direct aftermath of the race, but the Frenchman was then handed another three-second sanction for riding with his leathers undone and without the required chest protector. That shuffles him back to sixth in the final results.
Mir faded slighty in the final stages but is ultimately classified fourth for more good points, and from 10th on the grid it was a solid Sunday. The number 36 was able to keep Viñales at bay, and the number 12 is now fifth to end the day just ahead of his teammate Quartararo in the final results. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) was 1.8 down on Viñales at the chequered flag in a quieter outing for the Italian in P7. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) took P8, just 0.2 behind Pecco after shadowing the Italian for much of the race.
Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was another rider to have a quiet afternoon, the Italian finishing a lonely P9. 3.6 adrift of Morbidelli in P10 was rookie and reigning Moto2™ World Champion Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama), his third top 10 of the season. Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol), Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia), Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) – who crashed on the sighting lap and was forced to start from the back of the grid upon his return from injury – and Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) picked up the remaining points on offer in Barcelona.
Both Repsol Honda Team machines suffered DNFs in the early stages, Pol Espargaro and Marc Marquez going down uninjured at Turn 4 and Turn 10 respectively. Aleix Espargaro and Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) were two others who, like Marc Marquez, crashed at Turn 10. Danilo Petrucci and Tech3 KTM Factory Racing teammate Iker Lecuona also crashed out on Sunday afternoon – all riders ok.
And that’s that. Oliveira and KTM deliver an outstanding Sunday performance to win their first race of 2021, following up from their first podium of the season too. The Austrian factory are back in business this season after a tricky opening few rounds, with Ducati also impressing on Sunday once again. And in terms of the World Championship, Zarco has closed the gap to Quartararo after a dramatic day in Barcelona for the latter. Now, it’s just 14 points… and next up it’s the Sachsenring. What awaits in Germany? We’ll find out in two weeks!
1 Miguel Oliveira – Red Bull KTM Factory Racing – KTM – 40:21.749
2 Johann Zarco* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – +0.175
3 Jack Miller – Ducato Lenovo Team – Ducati – +1.815
*Independent Team rider