Dre’s Race Review: MotoGP’s 2024 Catalan Grand Prix

Pecco Bagnaia goes from zero to hero in an erratic Catalan weekend, marked by the retirement of Aleix Espargaro. Dre opens his running diary for a heaped MotoGP weekend.

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Dre Harrison Reviews



Read time: 8 mins

“I’m Francesco Bagnaia and welcome to Mythbusters.”

Hey folks, Dre here, and it’s time to put a neat little bow on the biggest Motorsport weekend of the year as MotoGP kicked off the festivities with the Catalan Grand Prix… so, of course, I publish it last. Sorry, bike fans.

Now, with the loaded way this weekend played out, I’ll break the fourth wall a little bit here – I wrote this review in instalments again. So, let’s start with Thursday and the “exceptional” press conference called from Aprilia’s greatest servant…

Was hard not to be genuinely emotional watching Aleix Espargaro declare his retirement because for me, he’s become one of the more important figures as bike racing has become what it is today.

He’s the final rider left from the 800cc era of prototype top-flight racing. The only other rider left from the Marquez era of 2013. He’ll be third on the all-time appearance list if he stays healthy until the end of the year and be just the ninth member of the “300 races” club.

Beyond being the veteran of the field though, Aleix was the personification of what changed the sport when it needed to survive. It wasn’t that long ago that the top-flight’s grid was just 17 bikes and three manufacturers deep, after Suzuki slowly stepped away, and Kawasaki moved to World Superbikes while pulling Dorna’s pants down1.

The Open Class had to be formed with production bikes as its backbone in a desperate attempt to make the sport cheaper and raise participation. And while those “Frankenstein’s monsters” of bikes were slow, one rider stood out most from that time, and it was Aleix Espargaro. Back then, on a Forward Yamaha, the Open Class’ “finest hours” spawned from him. That pole in the rain at Assen in 2014. His first podium later that season at Aragon, muscling out Cal Crutchlow over the line. 

He was rewarded with his performances by going to Suzuki off the back of their reboot and he unfortunately was beaten badly by the supremely talented Maverick Vinales. Aprilia was seen as his last roll of the dice, the worst factory team on the grid. A team that had already spat out big-name riders like Alvaro Bautista, Scott Redding and Marco Melandri. But he got his head down, worked in the trenches as Aprilia found their footing and he was the one to benefit most when Dorna worked with them to make the sport more competitive. 

He’s arguably been one of the biggest winners of the sport’s push for competitive balance. The independents getting financial support. The concession system for a while, the fact that we peaked at six factories in the sport and all of them eventually won. Espargaro channelled 200 premier-class starts into his first win, and turned that into a genuine title campaign in 2022 with six podiums and was within 20 points of Fabio Quartararo’s lead before an electrical fault ruined his title charge. 

If you had guessed the man who was once laughed out of the room by genuine legends like Jorge Lorenzo for believing he was one of the best riders in the world, would actually find a way to become one in his Mid 30’s, someone loved by all and in tears as he announced his retirement… yeah, I wouldn’t have taken you seriously either. But Aleix believed it. Eventually, most of us did too. 

And I’ll always have an extra slice of respect for him because he always kept his heart on his sleeve and was never afraid to speak his mind. Whether it was on the safety of the riders, even more so with his brother in a hospital wing in Portimao last year, as the Sprint made its debut, to his own mental health struggles, his deep love for his family, and battling some of the loneliness being on the road for eight months a year, can bring. It takes a brave mind to speak with such passion and fire in a sport where we shrug at 220 miles per hour. Give me that guy 100 times over some of the manufactured speak that Motorsport has become littered with. 

Aleix got a standing ovation from the riders and the press when the announcement came. Jorge Martin could barely keep it together. That alone speaks to me about just how far he’s come as a rider and a person. He’ll be missed in the paddock, that I’m certain about.  

Godspeed Captain. It was a hell of a voyage. 

Look, I’ve said it before on here – The Sprint Race has never fully sat right with me in MotoGP. As calendars get bigger and the risk of injury increases, adding 50% more racing laps onto the longest schedule ever is brutal. But I can’t deny, it is entertaining as heck, and genuinely a different product compared to how the GP turns out.

This race was another example. Three different times the leader crashed out from the lead after taking liberties with a track that dearly punishes mistakes for how slippery a track it is. Raul Fernandes pushed hard, block passed Acosta at Turn 5 and gave us the first racing laps a Trackhouse as led in MotoGP, but he cried his eyes out after getting his braking massively wrong into Turn 10 and crashing. Then Brad Binder, trying to re-establish himself as top KTM, crashed with the lead at Turn 5, tucking the front. 

Francesco Bagnaia had this Sprint in the bag, a massive opportunity to punish Jorge Martin who had struggled on his tyres and was in fifth place. Taking seven points off his main rival at his signature skill would have been a big counterpunch. So instead, he crashes with a one-second lead at Turn 5, while cruising on the final lap. A horrifying mistake and one that makes you wonder why the reigning Double World Champion would have such a lapse in concentration. I thought we were through the dropsies that marred both his title campaigns of old.  

It’s still reasonably early days, but I’m not sure you want to give Jorge Martin a two-race Championship lead a second time. 

Further back, Marc Marquez started 14th on the grid after struggling in qualifying again. He had half his front aero fairing knocked off after an incidental Lap 1 clash with Jack Miller. So of course, he picks off the opposition one by one and then passes Pedro Acosta on the final lap of the Sprint to finish second. Given going into Saturday, the GP23s have been nowhere all weekend so far, Marquez still finds a way to go the extra mile when it matters most. It’s astonishing. 

Oh, and Aleix Espargaro won. That’s cool too. 

The race itself told a very different story. Jorge Martin got to the front far quicker this time, with Pedro Acosta following suit, only for the young shark to tuck the front for the second round in a row. Not the best 20th Birthday present to send back to Tech3. 

Francesco Bagnaia hung back in second place for a little while, but it turns out Martin had overheated his rear tyre on Catalunya’s abrasive surface, and as a result, lost pace in the back half of the race. With six laps to go, Bagnaia made his move and passed Martin at Turn 5, the same Turn 5 he crashed at the day before to eventually take the win. After the race, he said he wanted to “bust the myth” about his crash there. Hard to argue with that as a response. 

Bagnaia and Martin were in a different league to the rest of the field, with Marc Marquez pulling off another comeback, going from 14th to third, beating Aleix Espargaro and holding him off on the final lap in an intense fight. And Marc was one of just four riders to do it on the softer rear tyres. Being the only man in the field to make that work was sublime riding. 

For those keeping score at home, in his last four Sprints and Grand Prix, Marquez has gone from 13th and 14th and converted them into 2nd, 2nd, 2nd and 3rd. That’s 45 positions gained. Marc has been a little embarrassed by that stat because he’s made it clear that something has gone wrong, and it has. The qualifying is a concern, as getting the speed out of the rear grip of the Ducati conflicts with what made him so fast on a Honda. But if he can figure that out and not have to burn half a race riding in another rider’s dirty air, the wins will come. It doesn’t help that both he and crew chief Frankie Carchedi don’t have data from previous years to work off of. But right now, Marquez’s raw ability and newfound patience is pointing him into contention. 

This all leaves Bagnaia in an interesting spot. No one has won more in the top flight so far this season, with Catalunya being his third win. A thinking man’s ride. But he has to do something about haemorrhaging points in Sprint form, it carries too much importance to give up half a dozen points before your GP’s even started. And no matter how you slice it, Martin’s not making the errors that marred his 2023 campaign. If Bagnaia keeps winning GP’s, eventually he’ll take the title lead back. But Jorge Martin is not going to make it easy for him. And what role will Marc Marquez play in this?!

Enea Bastianini didn’t believe in the Long Lap Penalty he received for shortcutting the Turn 1 chicane, so he decided to protest instead by ignoring them, eventually taking a 32-second time penalty2. The ONE time Freddie Spencer was right as well… yikes. Poor discipline from the Italian who feels like chopped liver as Ducati decides what to do about its future. I love that Massimo Rivola at Aprilia said that it’d be great if an Italian could ride an Italian bike again… ignoring the fact that its happened three times in the last decade. Andrea Iannone erasure3!

Gutted for Raul Fernandez. It’s easy to forget that man had one of the greatest Moto2 seasons ever seen in 2021 and looked like he could be a ridiculous talent and this weekend was the first sign of the old dog in him coming back. He rode the first few laps of the Sprint brilliantly before he botched Turn 10 so badly he ended up 100 feet from the apex. A strong P6 in the race makes it the best result for Trackhouse so far and a nice retaliation to the constant rumours about Joe Roberts and Justin Marks wanting an American on his bike.

Still missing: Marco Bezzecchi. 

Looks like Ducati isn’t going to be announcing anything at Mugello next week after all, and that’s probably wise with Yamaha begging Pramac to take their bikes, and Martin threatening to bolt to KTM. Gives me the impression the Italians can’t afford both Martin and Marquez… 

Great to see Ai Ogura back to winning ways with a wonderful comeback ride from 10th on the grid in Moto2. We all know what the man is capable of and to beat the in-form Sergio Garcia from that far back was really impressive work. 33% of MT-Helmets MSi’s races have now landed in 1-2 finishes.

Other notes: Horrible lack of discipline from Fermin Aldeguer to get a track limits penalty from the lead and then crashing while attempting the long lap penalty. Also, it was wonderful to see Jake Dixon back on the podium and speak so openly about his poor mental health in what’s been a horrible season for the Brit. I know it’s easy to be cynical of him due to certain broadcasters’ biases, but he’s a good man with a good heart. I wish there were more in Motorsport like him. 

Who would say no if I were to propose a David Alonso double-class jump to MotoGP? I’m serious. 

  1. Suzuki at least cut down over time and gave Dorna a heads-up. Kawasaki suddenly upped sticks and quit off the back of the credit crunch. It’s why Dorna’s got a much tighter “Concorde” agreement these days… ↩︎
  2. Originally a long lap for shortcutting the chicane, which was doubled for failure to comply, upgraded to a ride-through for the same reason, and then converted into time. ↩︎
  3. In case you were curious, Marco Melandri and Lorenzo Savadori were the other two. ↩︎

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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