Dre’s Race Review: 2023’s MotoGP Grand Prix of Valencia

Jorge Martin pulled out every stop but fell as the last as Bagnaia goes back-to-back. Also, RNF’s Crypto bust, Trackhouse, Testing and Concessions as Dre puts a bow on 2023 in MotoGP!

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Read time: 11 mins

“Back to Bagnaia.”

My goodness. It wasn’t exactly a high bar given everyone in F1 was tired and fed up by Abu Dhabi, but MotoGP’s season finale stole the show with a dramatic, explosive, heated finale as Francesco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin went for broke for the Championship. Well… tell a lie, one of them did. And that would lead to his downfall. 

But this has also been a loaded weekend of news as the 2024 grid was finally completed, one of the teams has been chalked off the board in an absolutely batshit media storm and the concession system has been changed to help out Japan. Oh, and Marc Marquez took to the track on a Ducati. That was weird. Grab a cold one, we’re going to be here a while.

That was the big marketing cue for this title-deciding weekend. One out of the two title contenders took that very literally. Jorge Martin walked into this weekend with his back against the wall, down 21 points with just 37 left available. He had to go for broke, and he didn’t do himself any favours when his brilliant qualifying speed wasn’t quite there, with Maverick Vinales taking pole and Pecco Bagnaia right behind. 

Jorge Martin cemented his status as the Sprint King with another brilliant comeback. Martin is at his strongest when he doesn’t have to worry about tyre wear and winning seven out of the season’s eight final Sprints became his ace in the hole. Bagnaia was taking a different approach. He could only manage fifth in that final Sprint, but I remembered the old game plan he spoke about back in Germany. Bagnaia was using the Sprint as an extended test session. He stayed back, rode his pace and managed his setup, to try and maximise what he could do over 27 laps during the race. That’s the luxury of knowing you have 21 points to play with. He was more than okay with dropping his margin to 14 if he knew he could be stronger where it mattered most – the 25-point Grand Prix.

And he got the biggest stroke of luck imaginable on Sunday morning. Maverick Vinales clearly isn’t a Team I5G fan on YouTube because he didn’t respect the meatball. His Aprilia engine blew up (by accident this time), and he refused to get off the racing line. As a result, he was given a three-place grid penalty, putting Bagnaia on pole. At Valencia, a track where passing for the lead already comes at a premium, in this new era of aero that makes passing even harder, Pecco Bagnaia had been given pole for free. Welp. 

And the reigning World Champion did exactly what he needed to do. Take the holeshot, and run his race. Martin had to push the envelope and gamble and to his credit, he got to second very quickly, timing his aggression perfectly. He’d already spent most of Friday and Saturday trying to get under Bagnaia’s skin, following him like a hawk in qualifying and goading him in the media, trying to make one of the sport’s coolest men blink. He failed. So he tried to take him by force. He failed there too.

It was a pass attempt we’ve seen before in MotoGP. Getting lost in the aero wash of another bike we’ve seen has had catastrophic consequences. Taka Nakagami at Catalunya last year literally ate bike. Marc Marquez at Portimao nearly broke three men in one crash. Marco Bezzecchi was obliterated at Silverstone. It’s either ease off the brake or lock it, and Martin seemingly did the same here. He overshot Turn 1 and went into the gravel, and realistically, that was that. 

Martin’s a trier. He had to go all-out for the title and was caught in a dogfight with Marc Marquez and Johann Zarco, who was riding for pride, not his teammate. Two laps later, one too many. A hellacious divebomb at an always tricky Turn 4 led to Martin harpooning Marc Marquez, sending the former Champ into orbit, and Martin in the gravel for good. Game over. 

Martin would apologise after the fact, Marquez completely understood, a man who knows all about taking unprecedented risks to try and win. But that was that. Francesco Bagnaia had the rub of the green all day. Jack Miller had his best race of 2023, leading by a second and a half until he got caught out by the Turn 10 complex as the track got colder as the afternoon wore on. His teammate Brad Binder, eyeing up his best chance to win in two and a half years (Yes, it really has been that long), went wide at the penalty loop and never really recovered. KTM throwing away a genuine shot at a 1-2.

Johann Zarco got to the front again but had a whiff of the old Zarco, coming close but never truly looking like he could win. The man of the moment, Fabio Di Giannantonio came really close, but like the Bagnaia we’ve seen so many times before, he was impossible to outbreak and send a pass on. And even then, it didn’t matter. Fabio finished second on the road but would drop to fourth in post-race scrutineering with his second tyre pressure violation, the first being in the Sprint. He entered Valencia one of just seven men who had a “joker” to play with this being the last race of the current rule set. He ended up just the second man to actually pay a punishment. 

It was Pecco’s day. It probably always was Pecco’s day, even when there were moments it looked like it might not be. He dunked a basketball and wore some rings in the style of his questionable hero, Dennis Rodman, and became MotoGP’s first defended Champion since 2019, and the first to defend the sacred #1 plate since Mick Doohan in 1998. 

I’ll go into detail on Pecco’s season more in my series review in the near future, but this weekend was the peak of him. Tactical, methodical, and knowing when to be fast when it mattered most. Was he the fastest rider this season? Probably not. But was he the best? Without question. Congrats Pecco, now a three-time Champion of the World and quickly heading up those all-time discussions. 

And a salute to Jorge Martin. His speed is more primal, more raw. At his best, there is no one in this sporting environment quicker. He left it all out there and we could all see it, from his frustration in Qatar to the ecstasy of Thailand. I think he lost his head when the pressure dialled up, trying to deflect that towards Pecco. Indonesia and Philip Island will live long in the memory, but a valiant first effort at Martin to try and scale the mountain top. If he gets another chance, he’ll be better for it. He made this season as interesting as it was, even if he blew it up at the end.

As the final weekend of MotoGP was rumbling, there was a separate bit of drama going on at the other end of the paddock, which led to yesterday’s explosive flashpoint. 

So, apparently, after the Malaysian Grand Prix, Razlan Razali, team principal of the RNF team was sacked from his post citing “poor performance and financial decision-making”. This didn’t really go public until the run to Valencia, mind you. Also, how did Razlan get ousted from his own team? Well, the man who once famously gave it the big one about the series needing to go outside of the box to attract sponsors sold 60% (A controlling stake), to CryptoData, a Romanian blockchain company. Yikes. 

By the time we’ve gotten to Valencia, I’d already heard from many a good source that RNF was virtually broke, with many members of staff going unpaid. Raul Fernandez also gave away insight into their problems when he felt like the team was coasting on equipment that had a heap of mileage on it. Not a good sign given they were already on 2022 equipment. Oh, and there were rumblings too that they had paid up for their title sponsorship of the Austrian Grand Prix earlier in the year. 

This story was set to explode and the fuse paper was lit when Simon Patterson at The Race reported on Saturday morning that there was a dispute between CryptoData and Dorna, with Dorna set to revoke their grid slots, and an even spicier rumour that Trackhouse, the NASCAR team owned by Justin Marks and Pitbull was set to buyout the operation. Yes, that Trackhouse, home of Ross Chastain and his video game Martinsville pass of 2022, and Shane Van Gizbergen’s brilliant Chicago Street win earlier this year. 

On Monday, Dorna pulled the pin and announced that the sport’s selection committee revoked the RNF team’s grid slots due to “repeated infractions and breaches of the participation agreement”. Raul Fernandez still tested the 2023 Aprilia today, but for a team that technically won’t be on the grid for 2024 unless this Trackhouse move goes through. It could be smooth, but CryptoData released a statement that I could only describe as “batshit”, threatening to take Dorna to court and even accuse them of blackmail. 

Dorna pulled the biggest political card they could, kicking a race team off the grid leaving it nowhere to race. But Cryptodata’s Ovidiu Toma still owns 60% of it. It sounds to me like Dorna’s tried to force a sale by activating the trap door beneath them, even admitting in their booting of the team’s statement that: “The Selection Committee will be reviewing applications for a new independent team, using Aprilia machinery, to join the MotoGP class grid for 2024.” This could be ugly and if it really does go to court, it could be months before this case is settled. And if this does take a while to be settled, talent from this promising team could easily be poached elsewhere. This team is no joke, the Petronas-owned version of it had six wins in 2020 and had Frankie Morbidelli as Championship runner-up. This team is legit and the talent bleed could be real.

And I can totally see why Dorna are eyeing up Trackhouse. It makes total sense. Justin Marks is one of the few people in NASCAR who leans into the European/Worldwide potential of his brand beyond NASCAR’s national focus. “Project 91” and its extra car brought us Kimi Raikkonen, Danill Kyvat and SvG as well as genuine interest in the series that it normally wouldn’t have. Dorna could have an American-owned team in its series, a series that has struggled to make any sort of impact stateside since the AMA/MotoAmerica ladder collapsed. Remember when the series had THREE US races way before F1 made it cool?

Trackhouse is reportedly prepared to pump money into the team, which could be massive for the Aprilia and Noale unit. Talks of expanded operations, bills being flipped and even extra money to run 2024 machinery. Marks is taking this seriously and it could be a massive shot in the arm for a factory that’s shown potential at title campaigns but not quite delivered yet. 

But it still remains a very murky situation with a team that’s dug itself into an unfortunate hole over the last three years and potentially beyond. The speed of which this gets resolved could determine a lot as to how this plays out. Remember, the Sepang test is just eight weeks away. 

My heart goes out to all affected at RNF, I know all about being in job limbo and how daunting that can be when your future is uncertain. I hope for all parties it can be resolved quickly. And as a Motorsport fan, I’d LOVE it if Trackhouse could take control of a talented team and a competitive package. 

Moral of the story: Don’t sell your team to the man with the “funny money”.

In another sneaky end-of-season story, MotoGP dropped their new concession system after sitting down with the sport’s manufacturers. In pure terms, here’s the table, before I go into a bit more detail:

Rank% of PointsTest TyresPrivate TestingGP Circuit TestingWild CardsEnginesAero Updates
A>=85%170Test Rider Only3 Circuits07 or 81
B>=60%<85%190Test Rider Only3 Circuits37 or 81
C>=35%<60%220Test Rider Only3 Circuits67 or 81
D<35%260FreeAny Circuit69 or 102

For the manufacturers of the sport, your tier is now dependent on much of a percentage of the maximum possible total you’ve scored. So take the Ducati. They scored 700 points in the manufacturers this season. The maximum possible was 728 (Remember, we had no Sprint in Australia), so that’s 96.1%. That’s more than 85, so they go to Tier A. Applying that same maths, KTM and Aprilia are in Tier C, and Honda and Yamaha are in Tier D.

Call a spade a spade here folks, this system is for Japan. The changes from Tier C to D are enormous. Compared to Ducati, Honda and Yamaha will have 50% more tyres in testing, they can test with their factory riders on any GP track compared to just three, they get six potential wildcards when Ducati have none, two more engines and an extra aero upgrade for the season. This is significant for them to help close the gap and figure out their shortcomings. 

And I like the fact this isn’t straight-up BoP style changes. Ducati should still be fine with these changes. Yes, they’re a little restricted on tyres, and losing Michele Pirro is always a sad time, but compared to their main competition, this isn’t a crippler. They’ll likely still be competitive. This isn’t about bringing Ducati down, it’s about bringing everybody else UP. 

So overall, I like these changes and look forward to seeing how it shakes out as Honda and Yamaha start trying to close the gap to Europe. 

I’d be silly if I didn’t talk about Tuesday’s Valencia test and it was all because of one man – Marc Marquez on a Ducati. This was the most hype of any rider at a MotoGP test I’ve ever seen. Photographers and journalists were lining up around the garage waiting for that dark blue and red testing livery to roll up. I actually went out of my way to watch a 6-hour testing session!

And the hype was justified immediately. In just seven laps, Marquez was lapping in the 1:30’s, competitive race pace time. By lunchtime, he was the fastest of everyone. A 29.4 would have put him 11th on Sunday’s race grid. On a track blatantly colder than the race on Sunday as the sun came down. Enea Bastianini said he was already the fastest Duke through Turn 8. The rest of the fleet all knew he’d be quick, and know what a talent Marc is.

I watched his runs closely, they’re not perfect. He’s still not used to the Ducati on corner exit, but the terrifying thing is – He’s pretty much on pace right away. Only a tenth off the best of the Ducati’s and two behind Maverick Vinales, who I call the “Workout Warrior” of MotoGP (Fast in practice sessions). 

Forget your preconceived notions, Marc Marquez is back and he’ll be amongst the title favourites for 2024. Next season just got way more interesting, and from the buzz generated from just a test, it’s clear to me the sport needed this shot in the arm again. 

Speaking of arms, found out this morning Marquez had arm pump surgery. He’s had it for half the season. Yikes…

Jorge Martin crashed twice in the test and wasn’t quick elsewhere. Has anyone needed a winter break more?

“Difficult conditions today.. but am going to have a with a big smile tonight” – Frankie Carchedi, Marc Marquez’s new crew chief.

Don’t look now, Marini and Mir looking competitive was probably the best day for Honda they’ve had all season. Mir genuinely sounds really happy with the 2024 bike. There may be ho- Oh and Johann Zarco’s binned it.

So it came to pass that MotoGP had no repeat winner across 2023, only the second time that’s ever happened in the top flight and the first time that’s happened since 1949, the inaugural season. 

If Marc Marquez’s pass on Marco Bezzecchi in the race was now deemed dirty then I think bike racing’s lost its mind. I fear a part of it is riders taking massive risks to get ahead in a sport where it’s incredibly hard to pass in clear air. And the other is because it’s MM93. People STILL think it’s 2015. 

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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