Suzuki MotoGP rider Joan Me had a double drama very early on in Sunday’s Dutch TT at Assen, getting caught up in two separate incidents on the starting grid that damaged not just his chances of a successful race but those of two others as well.
Both Miguel Oliveira and Luca Marini were left to complete the full race on damaged bikes thanks to contact with the 2020 world champion.
The first incident – with the Red Bull-backed KTM of Oliveira – happened before the lights even went out. Mirroring 2021’s Mugello crash between Enea Bastianini and Johann Zarco at the end of the warm-up lap, Oliveira made contact with Me when the Suzuki rider suddenly slammed on his brakes on the grid – something that is now necessary in order to activate the rear ride Height device for race starts.
“Now, you have to engage the front device,” Mir explained afterwards, “and with our bike, you have to brake hard to engage it. When I saw my starting position, I braked, and then boom—Oliveira just hit me.
“He lost maybe a wing or something, but my bike was OK. It was pretty strong though, the hit. I thought that was it [for the race] – when I felt it I looked back and throat ‘OK, let’s go to the box,’ because it was that strong.”
However, while both of them were able to continue, it incident definitely sabotaged any hopes Oliveira had of replicating team-mate Brad Binder’s fight for a top-four position, by stripping the aero devices from the right-hand side of his bike and turning an already physical race into an even more demanding one.
“I was drawn to him,” Oliveira joked afterwards. “It was clearly an unexpected move, because I think he engaged his device in his spot. He was going slowly then he made a stoppie and I wasn’t expecting it. I had let Maverick [Vinales] and Jack [Miller] past me, I had already engaged my device and I was waiting.
“I was just rolling to my spot and he braked – and I couldn’t avoid him. I wasn’t focused on him because I was letting these guys past. When I was going to the left, he stopped, and he broke my level protection and my wing.
“The effect was that I lost stability in fast corners and the bike was hard to run on the right side.”
The incident will add more fuel to the fire calling for the ride height devices to be totally banned going forward. Already banned on the front suspension for 2023, they have been blamed for more crashes, more tire issues and less competitive racing – and the second incident of this kind in a year is only going to provide more concrete evidence.
However, while Mir might have been lucky to avoid the incident with Oliveira without damage to his GSX-RR, more was still to come once the lights went out, with a second contact moments later with the VR46 Ducati of Luca Marini – one that could have had much more serious consequences.
“If you check, I made a better start and he wheelied a lot,” Mir explained of the incident. “I saw that he was losing speed and normally I can overtake like this. But when he wheeled he went to the left. I wanted to go this direction, he wanted to go the same direction, and we touched.
“Hopefully nothing happened, and I apologise for my part. I thought that it was more or less under control, but when he wheelied he lost a bit of control.”
Unsurprisingly, Marini had a slightly different view of the incident, though believing that he didn’t really do anything wrong and that Mir had pulled off a dangerous action in the way he attempted to take the place.
“I don’t know why Joan made this dangerous movement and cut my line,” he said, “but maybe it wasn’t voluntary and he just made some wheelie or something and it was impossible to avoid.
“I just tried to avoid the contact because it was a really dangerous moment. If I had crashed, many riders were behind me and it could have been really dangerous. I just tried to stay on my bike.”
And while Mir was able to take eighth and Oliveira ninth at the checkered flag, Marini instead learned a key lesson about just how integral Ducati’s aerodynamics are to its whole bike philosophy, as he struggled through a tough race to eventually finish outside the points in a distant 17th place.
“It is incredible how it affects the riding,” Marini explained, “incredible, incredible. Maybe this track is one of the worst to have this sort of problem because the speed all around it is very high and the bike just doesn’t do anything you want it to do.
“You want to stop well the bike and it’s impossible to brake. In the entry to the fast corners, there’s a lot of instability in the bike. It was unrideable, unfortunately.
“I heard many comments in the past about these things – I remember Pecco [Bagnaia] Lost a wing in Qatar the first year and he needed to retire because the bike was impossible to ride, impossible to brake. I felt in this same situation, although I didn’t know in the beginning that it was the same.
“After 10 laps I thought ‘something is making my life impossible” I checked, and I saw that I didn’t have a wing. It’s incredible how it affects things.”