Viñales Escapes Drama To End MotoGP Drought

Maverick Viñales earned his first MotoGP win of the season Sunday in Italy. (Yamaha Photo)
Maverick Viñales earned his first MotoGP win of the season Sunday in Italy. (Yamaha Photo)

MISANO ADRIATICO, Italy – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP‘s Maverick Viñales escaped Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli with his first MotoGP victory of the season after a dramatic Sunday of racing.

Jack Miller got a great launch from second to grab the holeshot with polesitter Viñales slotting into second. Fabio Quartararo held onto third, with Francesco Bagnaia making up a place to get past Pol Espargaro.

Viñales, however, didn’t take long to take the lead as the Spaniard was up the inside at turn four as Bagnaia took a look at under Quartararo turn eight. Drama unfolded behind for San Marino GP winner Franco Morbidelli. Aleix Espargaro tucked the front and collected Morbidelli, who somehow stayed on his bike and continued in last.

Viñales had a .9 second lead over the line as the riders clocked onto lap two, but Viñales’ teammate Valentino Rossi went down at turn four to end his dreams of a podium in his home country.

In the meantime, Bagnaia had got past teammate Miller for second and Brad Binder took third at turn 10 ahead of Quartararo. The rookie was on a charge, but then Binder was down at turn 14, with Bagnaia setting the fastest lap of the race as the Italian locked his radar firmly onto the back of Viñales’ YZR-M1.

Bagnaia ran down Viñales on the following lap as Espargaro set the fastest lap of the race in third, with Binder crashing again at turn one to end his race.

Bagnaia was right on Viñales on lap five and the duo were pulling away from Esparagro and Quartararo. Bagnaia set another fastest lap of the race and then Viñales was slightly wide at turn four, allowing Bagnaia to sweep through into the lead.

Bagnaia was immediately half a second clear of Viñales, but it stayed pretty constant at .6 seconds for a number of laps as Esparagro and Quartararo lost touch on the top two.

A few more laps went by and the gap between the leading two wasn’t going above .6 seconds, with Viñales slightly quicker than Bagnaia. Then the Pramac Racing rider started to up the ante, with Bagnaia’s lead going up to the magic one-second mark on lap 11.

A couple of laps later the lead was up to 1.4 seconds. Bagnaia had gotten the gap up to more than a second, but Viñales wasn’t letting the sophomore pull away, with the lead fluctuating between 1.1 and 1.4 seconds as Quartararo reeled in Espargaro behind the leaders.

Drama then unfolded with seven laps to go. The cameras were focused on the Espargaro-Quartararo battle that was intensifying, but suddenly the scrapes of a bike hitting the deck were heard. Someone had crashed, and it was race leader Bagnaia.

Bagnaia had gone down in turn six, the same place where he crashed in the third practice Saturday. This left Viñales was a four second lead. The race was now his to loose.

Behind him, Quartararo was showing a wheel to Espargaro but the latter was defending brilliantly on his KTM. But cue the jaws music – a GSX-RR of Suzuki rider Joan Mir was swiftly approaching the KTM and Yamaha.

Mir was .6 seconds faster than the duo ahead of him with six laps to go and sure enough, it became a three-rider dog fight for the remaining two spots on the podium. With six laps to go, Quartararo was handed a track limits warning – something that would prove to be costly for him moments later.

With three laps to go, Mir struck. turn two was his chosen spot and the Spaniard was underneath and past Quartararo, and it wasn’t long before Mir was up to second. On the next lap at turn one, Mir was through into second. Quartararo then pounced at turn three as Espargaro went from second to fourth in a matter of corners, and it seemed that was that for the podium fight with Espargaro struggling with his tires.

The drama wasn’t over, however. The news came from stewards that Quartararo had been handed a long-lap penalty for repeatedly exceeding track limits, his only time to do it was on the last lap.

Quartararo was just more than a second clear of Espargaro and four seconds ahead of fifth place Miguel Oliveira – so it looked like he was going to lose P3. However, Quartararo didn’t take the long lap penalty and that meant he would be handed a three-second penalty at the end of the race.

Yamaha rival Viñales didn’t have any such troubles as he cruised to his first MotoGP victory since the 2019 Malaysian Grand Prix. Mir took second, with Espargaro taking third after the penalty to Quartararo, who was scored fourth. Miguel Oliveira was fifth for Red Bull KTM.

“We did an amazing job this weekend, and we prepared really well for this race,” said Viñales. “Pecco (Bagnaia) was very fast, and I was pushing a lot throughout and trying to save a bit of tire for the last 10 laps. Then I started to push at the end, and I thought I was catching up with Pecco. But after he made a mistake, I just focused on keeping the bike with both wheels on the ground, trying to not crash and take the maximum amount of points.”