Like the other MotoGP test riders, Stefan Bradl initially thought he wouldn’t be racing in grand prix this season after a decision to ban wild-cards as part of the Covid restrictions for 2020.
Instead, he was called-up by HRC to replace injured reigning champion Marc Marquez from Brno onwards, meaning he competed in 12 of the 14 rounds (although he withdrew from Misano 2 due to recent surgery on his right arm).
For the first half of his season, Bradl failed to even finish in the points, but an eighth place at the wet Le Mans kickstarted a strong end to the season with points in all but one round.
Saving his best for last, Bradl took seventh place in the dry Portimao finale, which equaled his best race result since 2014 at LCR Honda.
“I enjoyed this weekend a lot because I felt that I still really have the speed and motivation and everything,” said the former Moto2 champion. “It was a great season for me overall because it was a big challenge in the beginning.
“It was tough for me mentally, physically, and everything. Finally, to arrive with a result like this at the end of the season gives me great satisfaction and a great feeling.”
After leaving MotoGP at the end of a 2016 season at Aprilia, Bradl spent a forgettable year in World Superbikes before signing as HRC’s MotoGP test rider.
It’s a role he would only change now for the chance of a full-time grand prix return.
“I’m interested to stay in MotoGP. World Superbike at the moment for me is not an option because I feel very well, even as a test rider, riding prototypes,” Bradl explained.
“This is my home. I tried one-year in Superbikes, but I feel much, much better [here]. I was born on the prototypes, almost all my career in grand prix. So I feel my riding style is made for this.
“I’m happy as a test rider. Overall the last couple of weeks and months, I showed that not only the position is always important, the speed, the lap times you can do, the consistency you can do, this is important as a test rider.
“I have extended my contract with HRC. I’m 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 keep going testing for the future .Then we’ll see the global situation with the virus.
“So I hope that we can go to Sepang for the shakedown test [next February]. Then we will keep going with our program as a test rider, and I hope that we can do wild-card races. This is definitely my target, but depends a lot on what’s going on with the global situation.”
Bradl played down the significance of prior testing at Portimao, saying he had been approaching a competitive MotoGP pace before the finale, where he was also freed from testing duties to focus entirely on the race.
“I came to Portimao for the test a few weeks ago which helped a little 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 base setting we had was working very fine and I was also a bit surprised that I got up to speed very fast, fighting for the top ten in every session. This was great.
“But I could feel this already in the two Valencia races. Okay, we didn’t have the result we wanted, but I could feel in some sessions we are there. We are not far in the lap times. The gap is super, super close.
“In Portimao maybe also the racetrack suits a little bit my riding style, but things came together. Also I didn’t need to test that much during the weekend. I was more free to go [racing]. The plan was to enjoy the weekend.
“[Previously] we were working very hard in the background with testing and working for the future. HRC is always very strict and really focusing on everything in the future.
“It was a big challenge for me to manage everything, to be racing for the GP, but also testing, but we managed it in a very good way.”
Bradl crossed the line in Portimao between Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso and Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro, 15s from race winner Miguel Oliveira but just 2.5s from the top Honda of Takaaki Nakagami in fifth.
“I had a nice fight with Aleix in the last lap and I could stay with Dovi,” Bradl said. “I think it was not so bad, but if I can do more races at this level, my strengths in overtaking will be even stronger.”
Wild cards will be allowed back in the MotoGP paddock in 2021, which for Bradl and Honda (as a non-Concession manufacturer) means a maximum of three events.