Pol Espargaro took his fourth podium of the 2020 MotoGP season and finished just 1.2s from victory in Valencia.
Starting from a wet pole position, the KTM star had vowed to takes risks in pursuit of victory, but Sunday’s critical moment came before the 27 laps had even begun.
“Today the most critical moment was just before the race in the pit box deciding which tyres put on,” Espargaro explained, referring to the dry Sunday conditions after wet practice and qualifying.
“The medium front was not bad in the morning, but then as the temperature increased we knew I would be struggling on the brakes. And if I struggle on the brakes, my race is over. It’s gone.
“So it was not a gamble, but it was a last-moment decision to put the hard front tyre. It was the very first time I used this tyre this weekend. But I knew it was all or nothing, so we put it on.”
Espargaro then converted pole position into an early lead, allowing him time to get the front tyre up to temperature.
“Luckily starting from first position I could use the first two or three laps to warm the front tyre, and then when Alex and Mir overtook me, I could be behind them and then by being behind the temperature of my front tyre was growing.
“Then my feelings were getting better and better.”
Espargaro kept the pressure on Rins with a late push, but couldn’t quite reach his fellow Spaniard.
“I was so on the limit during all the laps of the race that I could do nothing else. I gave my all,” Espargaro said. “Super pleased with that third position.
“These guys have been so fast, the Suzukis, but also they’ve been riding super good, it’s not just the bike.”
Although he’s yet to join Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira as a KTM race winner, Espargaro has fought back from three DNFs to be the factory’s top rider in the world championship standings, holding seventh and with a chance of fifth in his final pair of ‘orange’ races.
“If someone came before the season and told me you’re going to do four podiums and two pole positions, for sure I would take it, whatever the other results are. So I’m super happy,” Espargaro said.
“For sure, we have missed some points during the season – in Czech Republic, the red flag in Austria, the second Austria at the last corner. But I’m not the only one.
“After the two Austrian races especially it’s been very tough because we had a big chance to win, also in Czech Republic, but especially in Austria where it’s home for KTM.
“We couldn’t make it happen even if I was very strong, especially on the race pace and I knew I could do it. This was really frustrating me. That time of the year was not great for me, for sure.
“I thought we couldn’t repeat what could be done in Austria. Then Misano came [podium], the second Aragon second and here. I realise we can do it every weekend if we work well and if we put on the table what we need.
“Four podiums in the season shows that our performance is good. We are strong, we are fast. Also the pole position. Why not repeat it next weekend? We need to trust a little bit more in ourselves.”
All three KTMs present finished in the top seven on Sunday with Oliveira fifth and Binder seventh.
The Austrian factory has traditionally made a step for the second of the back-to-back weekends, raising their hopes for this weekend’s penultimate round of the season.