Vinales in opening practice

Alcañiz (Spain) (AFP) - MotoGP title leader Fabio Quartararo crashed as one of his main challengers, Maverick Vinales, topped opening practice for the Aragon MotoGP which Valentino Rossi must miss after the seven-time champion tested positive for coronavirus just hours before the session began.

The Italian motorcycling legend received the result which ruled him out of Aragon calculations and into quarantine at 1600GMT on Thursday, after two negative tests since last weekend’s race at Le Mans.

Rossi, 41, says he’s also likely to miss next weekend’s 11th leg of the season, back at the same track.

With Rossi unable to line up on Sunday and in the continued absence of fractured arm victim Marc Marquez it means this weekend’s grid is deprived of two men who between them have won 13 of the past 19 world championships.

With six-time champion Marquez out of the running a new name will be engraved on the coronavirus-disrupted 2019 MotoGP season, with Quartararo narrowly out in front but only 19 points cover the top four riders.

The tightest title battle for years sees the 21-year-old Frenchman - only ninth from pole at Le Mans last Sunday - leading Joan Mir by 10 points with Andrea Dovizioso and Vinales only a further eight and nine points adrift.

One mistake and he could slip to fourth in a blink.

There have already been seven different winners in the MotoGP 2020 season but “El Diablo”, as the French press likes to call him, is the only one to have climbed to the top of the podium more than once as winner of the opening two races in Jerez.

His Aragon GP action started with a bump after he was one of the riders caught out by the cold wind which delayed Friday’s morning session and resulted in some riders struggling with tyre temperatures.

Others to part company with their bikes like Quartararo were Johann Zarco, Marc Marquez’s brother Alex Marquez, Iker Lecuona and Franco Morbidelli. All escaped injury.

- Lack of speed -

Only ninth from pole at a rainswept French GP at Le Mans last weekend Quartararo’s main problem may not be the wind but the track, Motorland Aragon, whose long straight runs the risk of exposing the lack of raw speed of his satellite Yamaha-SRT bike.

To compound the problem, this is the first of two races on successive weekends at the circuit.

“It’s a track that could be a bit difficult for us, but we have the extra motivation to fight for a very good result,” said Quartararo.

“We are fighting for the championship. Last weekend we managed to extend our lead in tricky conditions, so I think we can do really well again this weekend.”

Despite being second in the standings Mir has yet to win a MotoGP race, although the Spaniard has tasted victory on this circuit while racing Moto3 in 2017.

“It’s a track that I like a lot and I’m coming to it in good shape,” said Mir who finished 11th in the rain at Le Mans.

“I’m still close to the lead in the championship standings and I managed to rescue some points in the last race.”

The long straights could be a problem for Mir too and that could leave the door open for Dovizioso, three-time runner-up to Marc Marquez in the championship.

The 34-year-old Italian is being dropped by Ducati at the end of the season. The prospect of leaving as reigning world champion could add to his motivation.

Meanwhile Rossi was not the only rider forced to miss this weekend due to Covid-19. In Moto3 young Italian Tony Arbolino must quarantine after coming into contact with a fellow passenger to Spain who tested positive for the virus.