There will be a new MotoGP world champion in 2020, but exactly who is anyone’s guess after a historic and thrilling last-corner victory for Miguel Oliveira in the Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring.
Oliveira became the first Portuguese rider to win in MotoGP when he stole victory from Australia’s Jack Miller and KTM team leader Pol Espargaro.
His win came a day after Marc Marquez confirmed he will be missing from MotoGP for at least another two months to allow his broken shoulder to heal, clearing the way for a newcomer to claim his crown.
The Styrian result was decided over a shortened 12-lap sprint for the second weekend in a row, after the initial race was red-flagged for a dramatic incident.
This time, Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales – who narrowly escaped serious injury in the Austrian Grand Prix when Johann Zarco’s errant Ducati flipped over his head – leapt off his bike at more than 200km/h into Turn One with suspected brake failure.
His bike exploded in flames when it hit the air fence, requiring a replacement before the race could resume.
When it did, Miller – despite an initial poor start – led the opening laps from Suzuki’s Joan Mir.
As Miller took advantage of brand-new soft tyres to open a small lead, Mir, running the same rubber from the opening stanza, started to drop back. Espargaro regained second on lap five and began hunting down the Aussie at the front, taking the lead on lap seven as he out-dragged the Ducati into turn one.
Miller looked settled in second, conserving his tyres while also defending from Oliveira in a tense KTM sandwich.
But, just as the podium looked as though it was locked in, the Pramac rider launched a surprise last-lap assault, taking the lead from Espargaro into turn four. Espargaro countered with an inside move into turn nine, only for Miller to tuck back and try a block pass into the final corner, which slowed both riders and pushed them wide of the apex, allowing Oliveira to slice through and steal an unexpected debut Grand Prix victory – the first for the satellite Tech3 KTM outfit and breaking Ducati’s previously unbeaten stranglehold on the Red Bull Ring.
“I don’t know [what to say],” says the 2018 Moto2 runner-up, who celebrated his 150th MotoGP start as the winner of the 900th Motorcycle World Championship Grand Prix and scored a yet-to-be-revealed new BMW M4 coupe as a bonus.
“I am very emotional. There is so much I want to say right now; just a big thank you to all the people that believed in me.
“[It is] history today, for me, for my country and I couldn’t be happier to have done it here at the home of KTM and Red Bull.”
Miller rode a gritty race in both stages, battling a shoulder injury following a heavy crash during Saturday’s third practice session.
After two podium finishes n Austria, the Aussie larrikin was content to climb to third position on the championship leaderboard, just 14 points behind early-season pace-setter Fabio Quartararo
“I had that lunge on Pol on the last lap and it didn’t work out,”Miller says.
“It is was it is. We’ll move on to the next one.”
Espargaro, who seized KTM’s first pole position in qualifying, benefitted most from the re-start as he was fourth – and more than five seconds from the lead – when the red flags came out.
So, despite losing what looked to be an almost certain victory in the second stage, he was actually ecstatic to be on the podium.
“It was a beautiful race. It was that kind of race; [where] everyone can win,” says the Spaniard.
“The last corner I was fighting with Jack and Miguel came through for the win. This is racing. Anyway, we are here and I am super happy.”
It was a heart-breaking, what-could-have-been fourth-place finish for Mir in the end, ahead of Austrian GP winner Andrea Dovizioso on his factory Ducati with his Suzuki team mate Alex Rins in sixth.
But the biggest loser was Nakagami, who looked set for an underdog podium – and the first for a Japanese rider in almost a decade – on his year-old Honda before Vinales’ incident. He was knocked back to seventh on the opening lap of the re-start, and remained there when the flag fell 12 laps later.
It was another disastrous race for Quartararo, who never looked in contention and could only muster a 13th place finish, reducing his championship lead over Dovizioso to just three points.
Meanwhile, second-generation Aussie racer Remy Gardner, son of 1987 World Motorcycle Champion Wayne Gardner, scored his best Moto2 finish with second place at the Red Bull Ring and sits ninth in the championship standings.
Styrian Grand Prix