KTM’s Pol Espargaro says he was “very lucky” to have narrowly missed Takaaki Nakagami’s wayward Honda during the Valencia Grand Prix after claiming his fifth podium finish of the year.
The Spaniard stalked leading duo Franco Morbidelli and Jack Miller in the opening laps of the second Circuit Ricardo Tormo encounter after making a lightning start to move from fifth to third, though began to drop back towards Nakagami as the race went on.
The LCR pilot had designs on a debut premier class win, electing to try and pass the Spaniard’s RC16 at the final turn with nine laps remaining.
Nakagami overcooked his speed on entry to the bend though, with the front of his RC213-V sliding out from under him as a result.
Espargaro says he was “very lucky” to avoid Nakagami after the Japanese racer subsequently slid across the front of the 2013 Moto2 world champion into the gravel, Espargaro ultimately holding off Suzuki’s Alex Rins to become the only man to stand on the rostrum in both Valencia outings.
“It (final corner) was one of my best places, I was catching Jack (Miller) and (Franco) Morbidelli there at the start of the race and I was able to brake really late there,” explained Espargaro.
“Then when he (Nakagami) tried to out-brake me there I said ‘OK, lets do it’ so I left some space because I was braking so late and then he tried to close the line too fast and crashed.
“I have to say I was very lucky, he was trying to overtake me because he wanted to win the race because he was fast and had the opportunity to get on the podium for sure but it was very close, and then on the next lap I lost a second and a half as I Iost concentration but luckily we could hold the podium so I’m happy.”
Espargaro remarked that he “did not expect” to achieve a second straight podium after seeing the charging Nakagami closing in, stating that his pre-race target of a top five alone would have been “fantastic”.
“We did not expect that (podium) even with Nakagami as he was a little bit faster, mid-race it looked like we were going to finish fourth which was fantastic as we were hoping for a top five result this weekend and we jumped onto the podium for the fifth time this season and my second in a row.
“It’s unbelievable how the effort is paying off in these last races of the season and I’m proud of the project and everyone involved in it.”
Espargaro remains in mathematical range of finishing an excellent second in the riders championship thanks to his rather consistent second half of the campaign, the Spaniard 20 points back from current runner-up Franco Morbidelli in seventh overall heading into the season finale in Portugal this weekend.