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MotoGP Valencia: Miller remains in charge on Friday

Pramac Ducati Jack Miller topped the combined Valencia MotoGP free practice timesheets with Aleix Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli in close attendance.

A drying Circuit Ricardo Tormo saw the Australian set a session-best time of a 1'32.528, 0.092 ahead of second fastestEspargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) with Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) two tenths off Miller.

With the rain halting for the time being in Valencia, a few of the riders headed straight out on Michelin slick tyres after a sodden opening Free Practice session. A dry line had appeared at the end of the Moto3™ session but there were still plenty of ominous-looking clouds hovering over the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, track temperatures were at a steady 20 degrees.


On his first flying lap, Championship leader Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) set the fastest lap of the weekend – a 1:41.581, four tenths faster than Miller’s FP1 time in the wet. Mir then had a moment on his second flying lap and that was a warning sign, the track was still very treacherous – and the stakes were high. The riders were pushing though and the red sector times were everywhere, vital track time on slick tyres ahead of what could be a wet FP3 – crucial for Q1 and Q2 places.

Despite the slight scare, Mir was setting the pace in FP2 after finishing P17 in the wet morning session. That was until FP1 pacesetter Miller set a 1:37.029 to go top, but it was changing all the time as the riders got used to the mixed conditions. How much was it changing? Well, after leading the early stages, Mir found himself down in P16 with 28 minutes to go. Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) was feeling no ill effects from his Turn 2 crash this morning to slot into P2 midway through FP2, making it a Pramac Racing 1-2 at the summit.

Valentino Rossi’s Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP stand-in Garrett Gerloff enjoyed an impressive FP1 on his MotoGP™ debut in the wet conditions, finishing ahead of both Mir and Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), but it was even better in FP2. On a mixed-condition circuit, the American was wringing the neck of The Doctor’s YZR-M1 and shot up to P5 with just under 20 minutes to go. It was an incredible display from Gerloff who has never raced at Valencia before. That being one of the numerous challenges facing Gerloff on Friday.

Meanwhile, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was now top of the standings from Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) as the rain held off for now. Mir then shot up to P3 as the riders headed out on soft tyres in a pretty important final 12 minutes, with rain potentially disrupting FP3 on Saturday morning. These times were being made to count and Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was now leading the way with a 1:33.229, Miller was back up to P2. Pol Espargaro then upped the ante, a 1:32.952 was now the time to beat with eight minutes to go.

Morbidelli and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) then took turns at being Pol Espargaro’s nearest challenger as Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) channelled his inner Forest Gump to leg it back to pitlane after crashing at the final corner with four minutes to go. But unfortunately, the effort to get back was in vain as his second bike wasn’t ready to head back out for the final couple of minutes.

In the closing couple of minutes, rather crucially, Championship leader Mir was P12. His teammate Rins popped up into P8 before Mir then went P6 just before the chequered flag came out, with Quartararo lingering in P17. That changed on his final lap though, the Frenchman shot up to P6 with teammate Morbidelli taking top spot. Miller then produced a late time to claim P1 for the second time today, Aleix Espargaro demoted Morbidelli to third and this movement saw Mir drop to P11. Title contender Morbidelli, like Miller, showed strong pace in both conditions.

Behind the top three, Nakagami holds P4 as the Japanese rider finishes less than a tenth ahead of Pol Espargaro, with Rins’ P6 making it six manufacturers inside the top six. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) landed a last lap good enough to put the South African P7 on the combined times, the rookie finished ahead of Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Quartararo. The two title contenders are joined by title race leader Mir in the top 10 after Crutchlow’s lap got cancelled due to a yellow flag infringement, the British rider dropping to P12.

The breaking news in FP2 surrounded Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). The man third in the Championship will have to start from pitlane after it was confirmed that he has had to open a sixth engine for the Gran Premio de Europa. Riders and teams are only allocated five engines for the year and after all of Yamaha’s engine troubles in 2020, the news gets worse. A huge blow for Viñales’ title chances, the Spaniard finishing P12 on Friday.

Gerloff eventually finished P19 at the end of what could be his only day’s work this weekend, but the American was just 1.5 seconds off Miller. A wonderful outing for the Yamaha WorldSBK star who has done himself proud, as Rossi hops back on his YZR-M1 for Saturday and Sunday in Valencia.

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