The time is nigh and ahead of track action for the Gran Premio Red Bull de España, the pre-event Press Conference got things in gear.
Reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was joined by the fastest man in testing, Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) and Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) to talk racing once again.
Marquez spoke first, and first underlined that we are #RacingForThem.
“It’s great to be back to MotoGP racing but the most important thing is to try to help all the people that were affected, millions and millions and more will be.
“But all the small help that we can get to them is really important and we will do.
“Like you did, like many riders did and that people be conscientious that this virus is still there and we must be patient and also pay a lot of attention.”
Next up, the test was on the agenda – with the Honda rider finishing third overall.
“Wednesday was an important day.
“Firstly to be back on a MotoGP back and then also because in preseason I had a few doubts; doubts about the technical side, doubts about my physical decision, but everything was fixed.
“I’m now completely fit and can ride like I want.
“In the preseason I was struggling a lot.
“On the technical side, in the last hour on the Qatar test we made a big step and we reconfirmed that we got back the feeling from 2019 and that was really important for our box.
“Now it’s time to work because now we need to retry all the things we tried in the winter test, some new items, so I’m looking forward to riding again tomorrow and keeping going.”
Another talking point was also the recent news that Pol Espargaro will be joining the Repsol Honda Team next year, as Marquez’ younger brother Alex moves to LCR.
“I always respect Honda’s decision because they try to choose the best for the team and the riders.
“Next year I will have a different teammate, last year I had a different teammate but, of course, the special moment that we had in Valencia with Jorge, Honda was looking for the best rider available; the Moto2 world champion, Alex.
“This year he’s in the Repsol Honda team but next year in LCR.
“That’s a good move for him because being in a Repsol Honda team means being on the podium.
“For a normal rookie rider, the normal step is to start with a team like LCR and good for him that he’ll get all the support from HRC.
“And I’m happy to share the team with Pol next year.
“It will be interesting to see the level of KTM and Honda and being in the Repsol Honda team means being on the podium, if not it’s a disaster, so I’m happy with the situation.
“Cal gives a lot of input to Honda and HRC.
“He’s been in the HRC family for many years with all the official support.
“It’s Honda’s decision but it’s always sad when you see somebody moving from the team but in this case it’s my brother, so it’s ok.”
Viñales was next on the mic, and the Spaniard has been looking ominous in testing – before and after lockdown. He also sounds optimistic ahead of Jerez….
“Yes, I feel fantastic, I mean the atmosphere inside the team is great, the harmony in the team is great.
“I think all the pieces are there.
“We need to keep going, we need to keep doing the job and what we were building last year.
“I can’t wait to be on the bike, I mean we left the bike in Qatar in really good form, Wednesday I felt incredible since the first lap and the feeling was there.
“In MotoGP it’s important to be on the level every day and not just one race.
‘It’s important to improve the consistency of the bike from track to track, for sure we need a little more top speed but we’ve made a good jump this year.”
For Quartararo, meanwhile, it’s now a sophomore season and he’s returning to the track that saw him take his first pole last season.
How is he feeling?
“After such a long time without riding a MotoGP bike, it was so fun to feel the speed.
“It wasn’t an easy day because the 2020 bike we only rode in Sepang and Malaysia and I was struggling in the first session because it’s so different to the last year’s spec that I had but I saw that the potential of the bike was really good and we need to adapt as quickly as possible because the other guys are also really fast.
“I think that, like Maverick said, the top speed is something we still need to improve but, honestly, I’m feeling really good with the bike.
“There are still somethings that we need to adjust compared to last year’s bike but to close the gap with Marc we will need to do a really good job because we know that he’s fast everywhere and in every condition, so we will need to adapt quickly to every situation.
“In the rain he was so fast, like in Brno, in mixed conditions he was so fast, so we will need also to adapt as a rider in these conditions.
Another of the headliner grabbers in testing was Alex Rins and Suzuki as a whole, with teammate Joan Mir also looking quick.
Rins agrees the marque look to be in a good place ahead of the season opener.
“We made a big step from last year.
“Our bike has changed a lot so thank you to the Suzuki guys for the work in Japan for the new chassis and engine.
“The preseason was quite good, we started herewith a lot of confidence on the bike.
“I think I’m more ready than ever and I want to start now.
“Last year, the last third of the year, we missed some consistency.
“But this year we found something on the bike and in the winter, I worked hard during the winter to improve the consistency so I will try to fight on top for the maximum time possible.”
From Rins it moved on to Rossi, who has also been making headlines but of a different kind.
But first, the ‘Doctor’ debriefed the lockdown.
“It’s a very strange situation.
“Also, a long, long time at home is a different feeling because I raced in the world championship for 24, 25 years.
“It’s a different feeling because it’s strange for us to live without the pressure and adrenaline of the race weekend.
“It was strange at the beginning, a little bit boring also because we were close to starting and we stopped for 2 months.
“But then when you understand your rhythm and everything it’s also good to stay at home.
“I feel good.
“But I’m very happy to restart.
“I think that all the fans around the world and the people who work here miss MotoGP a lot, so it’s great that we’ll restart.
“Wednesday we were already on track to come back on the bike and it was a long time but it’s like one day with the same feeling, the same joy and now we’ll start a normal race weekend.”
And the test?
“In the afternoon it was a bit more difficult.
“We have to work on the pace because we have to fix some things.
“But in general, I was in P5 overall and it wasn’t so bad.”
Finally, it was time to ask – is he returning for 2021?
It would seem so…
“For me the situation changed the plan a bit because I needed to race in 2020 to decide if I was going to race in 2021 to see if I can still be fast and competitive but, in the end, I have to make my decision without racing.
“But I spoke a lot with Yamaha and I want to continue.
“It’ll be a big effort because when you’re old you have to work very old, but I want to be part of the game, also next year, and I already agreed with Yamaha and I spoke already with Petronas and everything is fixed.
“I haven’t signed the contract because it’s still not ready because we have to build the team and it depends very much if a lot of people will move from one team to the other because Fabio and I will switch position, but I think that we’ll fix it as soon as possible.”
Miller, meanwhile, already has his 2021 signed on the dotted line as he’ll move to the factory Ducati Team.
That, and the long break, were first to cover for the Australian.
“First of all, like the boys said it was strange being ready to go, getting all psyched up and then heading home.
“I was fortunate to be on the farm in Australia with family, it’s the most time I’ve been in Australia for 10 years.
“It’s the only time I’ve left home thinking ‘ah, I don’t really want to leave’ but it’s great to be back and back on the bike.
“I was a little rusty on the first few laps but I quickly came to terms with it.
“To get that thing sewn up over the break was kinda strange because as we know the contracts are normally negotiated race to race and to be doing it on the opposite side of the world was kind of weird but in a good way.
“I’m stoked on the deal and I can’t wait to ride for the Ducati Team but as we speak about that, we haven’t started 2020 yet.
“Main focus is doing a solid performance, starting where we left off last year.
“They’ve given me a lot over the last couple of years it would be lovely to give something back to them.
“We got a lot of podiums last year but sadly they were all on the bottom step.
“So, we’ll try move up from there but yeah Pramac have backed me through thick and thin last year, even taking me from the situation I was previous to that so I feel obliged to give them something to celebrate.
“I was able to bring them their first pole position so who knows what they can do!”
Finally, it was time to hear from Pol Espargaro.
His move from KTM to the Repsol Honda Team was confirmed just before Jerez, and that was the key topic.
“It’s been a long confinement with a lot of up and downs, quite big decisions and a lot of emotions in between.
“In the end, to ride against or with the best rider currently on the grid, it’s difficult to say no.
“And in a world champion team and factory, it’s difficult to say no.
“So, I have thought a lot about it.
“It was a difficult decision because it’s going to be four amazing years with KTM where we’ve come from the darkest situation in Qatar 3 years ago and now we’re in a place where we can start to enjoy racing, now leaving makes me sad.
“But I’m 29 years old and, like everyone, I want the maximum from MotoGP, and I think in the short term to move in this factory is going to be super exciting but at the moment we are just at the beginning of this year, so it’s time to start racing and enjoy this last year with KTM where I still think I can do something very great.
“Since we started our mentality was just on winning.
“When we started 3 years ago the mentality was there but we didn’t have the machine to do it.
“Now we are getting closer to that target.
“We are not yet at that stage but it’s what we’re thinking every time I jump on the bike and every time I go for a lap time and every time I see the lights go out.
“We’re going to try to finish that relationship with great results.
“We race twice in Austria which is good news for KTM, it’s a track which suits us well, so we have a couple of opportunities to get good results and we’re going to try and finish that long relationship with the best results possible.”