Like the other MotoGP test riders, Stefan Bradl initially thought he would not compete in the Grand Prix this season after deciding to ban wild cards as part of the 2020 Covid restrictions.
Instead, he has been called up by HRC to replace injured reigning champion Marc Marquez from Brno, meaning that he would compete in 12 of the 14 rounds (although he retired from Misano 2 due to recent surgery on his right arm).
Bradl couldn’t even get the points in the first half of the season, but eighth place at the wet Le Mans started a strong end to the season with points in all but one of the laps.
Bradl saved his best in the end, finishing seventh in the Portimao dry finale, which was his best race result since 2014 at LCR Honda.
“I really enjoyed this weekend because I felt like I still had the speed and motivation and everything,” said the former Moto2 champion. “Overall, it was a great season for me because it was a big challenge at the beginning.
“It was difficult for me mentally, physically and for everything. After all, it is a great satisfaction and a great feeling for me to arrive at the end of the season with such a result.”
On the subject of matching items
After leaving MotoGP at the end of a 2016 season in Aprilia, Bradl spent an unforgettable year in World Superbikes before signing up as HRC’s MotoGP test rider.
It’s a role he’d change now just for the chance of a full-time Grand Prix return.
“I’m interested in staying in MotoGP. World Superbike is not an option for me at the moment, as I feel very comfortable as a test rider when I drive prototypes,” explained Bradl.
“This is my home. I’ve tried superbikes for a year, but I feel much, much better [here]. I was born on the prototype, most of my career in the Grand Prix. I feel like my driving style is made for it.
On the subject of matching items
“I am happy as a test driver. Overall, in the last few weeks and months I have shown that not only the position is always important, the speed, the lap times, the consistency that you can achieve, but also the importance of a test driver.
“I have extended my contract with HRC. I am happy to continue because we have a very, very good relationship. We already have the next test for us in December. So a few weeks off and then we will continue testing for the future we see the global situation with the virus.
“So I hope we can go to Sepang for the shakedown test [next February]. Then we will continue our program as test drivers and I hope we can do wildcard races. This is definitely my goal, but it depends a lot on what is going on with the global situation. “
Bradl downplayed the importance of previous testing at Portimao, saying he was approaching a competitive MotoGP pace ahead of the finale, which also took him off testing to focus on the race.
“I came to Portimao for the test a few weeks ago, which helped a bit, but the level of MotoGP, the guys are very fast. It doesn’t matter where. It doesn’t matter when. They are always there.” he said.
“The gearbox and basic setting that we had worked very well and I was also a bit surprised that I got up to speed very quickly and was fighting for the top ten in every session. That was great.
“But I could already feel that in the two races in Valencia. Okay, we didn’t have the result we wanted, but I could feel in a few sessions that we were there. We are not far in the lap times. The gap is great, great close.
“At Portimao, the circuit might also suit my driving style a bit, but things came together. Plus, I didn’t have to test that much over the weekend. I was freer [racing]. The plan was to enjoy the weekend.
“”[Previously] We worked very hard in the background to test and work for the future. HRC is always very strict and really focuses on everything for the future.
“It was a big challenge for me to manage everything, to drive for the GP, but also to test it, but we did it very well.”
Bradl crossed the line between Andrea Dovizioso from Ducati and Aleix Espargaro from Aprilia in Portimao, 15 seconds from race winner Miguel Oliveira, but only 2.5 seconds from Takaaki Nakagami’s best Honda in fifth.
“I had a nice fight with Aleix on the last lap and was able to stay with Dovi,” said Bradl. “I think it wasn’t that bad, but if I can race more at this level, my strengths in overtaking will be even stronger.”
Wildcards will be allowed in the MotoGP paddock again in 2021, which means a maximum of three events for Bradl and Honda (as non-concession manufacturers).