2011 Estoril Moto2 And 125 Round Up - On Too Little Talent, And Too Much Talent

Unsurprisingly, most of the attention this weekend went to the intrigues and infighting which characterized the MotoGP class. But while all eyes were on MotoGP, there were a couple of support races going on, and there was plenty to talk about in those classes as well.

The least interesting, or rather, the least surprising, was Nico Terol's crushing victory in the 125cc class, the Bankia Aspar rider's third win in a row in the third race of the season. To say that Terol is dominating the season would be like suggesting that Osama bin Laden was not generally regarded as having liberal views on religious tolerance. The Spaniard has rarely been off the top of the timesheets this year, commonly topping practice by as much as a second. The races have been even more blatantly unbalanced, Terol usually backing off with a comfortable lead after just one-third distance.

But as brilliant as Terol has been - and the Bankia Aspar man has been flawless so far in 2011 - part of his domination must be put down to the weakness of the current 125cc crop. His direct challengers are either second-stringers who have failed to move up to Moto2 yet such as Sandro Cortese and Efren Vazquez, washed-up returnees who failed dismally in Moto2 such as Sergio Gadea and Hector Faubel, or raw young talent at the very start of their careers, such as Miguel Oliveira and Maverick Viñales. Terol is almost certain to go on and take the title this season, winning 12 or more of the 17 (or more likely, 16, once Motegi is officially canceled) races this year. A bumper haul such as that may be necessary if he is to be considered for promotion to the Moto2 class next season.

That Moto2 class is endowed with rather more talent than 125s, and that is both its blessing and its curse. Where a good rider in 125s might hope to be regularly in the top 10, such is the fierceness of competition in Moto2 that they might be lucky to get a sniff of the points on a regular basis. With 40 riders on the grid, the difference between success and failure is terrifyingly small, a few tenths being the difference between starting in the front couple of rows or having 15+ riders in front of you.

With competition so stiff, riders who might otherwise expect success almost by right are finding themselves struggling to get into the points. And in their search for an explanation for the fractions of a second they are missing, their attention has naturally turned to their choice of chassis, and the support they are getting. There have been muted rumblings of discontent from several of the Suter-shod teams, especially from the vicinity of the Marc VDS Racing garage, though the team are keen to deny they have any intention of swapping chassis at any point this season. But at Estoril, in an interview with Spanish magazine Motociclismo, Kenan Sofuoglu threw Suter to the wolves, using very strong language to express his discontent.

While there may be some validity to at least some of Sofuoglu's criticism, the biggest problem with the Suter chassis is that they have been the victims of their own success. Over the winter, Suter did a brilliant job of persuaidng the top title prospects to use their chassis, but now that tactic has backfired somewhat. With Julian Simon, Kenan Sofuoglu, Marc Marquez, Scott Redding, Thomas Luthi and Andrea Iannone on the Suter, there was always going to be some dissent. Whoever happens to be winning on the chassis, the others were always going to blame Suter (rather than themselves or their teams) for their own lack of results, justly or unjustly.

For there is nothing much wrong with the Suter chassis, as Iannone's victory at Jerez and a bucketload of podiums would appear to attest. But rumors of favoritism and gossip among the teams of who is using which chassis (the 2010 or 2011 versions) are souring the atmosphere in the Moto2 class.

Before the season began, Marc Marquez had stunned the Moto2 class by jumping off his 125cc championship winning Derbi and blowing the field away on the Suter. But the Spaniard's success has raised unreasonable expectations, not least from Marquez himself. Marquez is strung as tightly as a deckhand on shore leave, growing ever more frustrated as his dry spell between wins continues. Right now, the Catalunya Caixa rider is his own worst enemy, managing to take himself out of two of the three races so far, and getting a little help to crash out of the third. Once Marquez gets a couple of solid finishes under his belt, he should be back at the front.

The rider generating the most excitement in the Moto2 class this year has surely been Andrea Iannone. Much of that is down to the Italian's inexplicable failure to qualify well, Iannone giving himself a huge amount of work to do off the line in every race so far. It is work that he is extremely well suited to, however, as his win at Jerez and podium at Qatar would appear to attest. Iannone looked like being on course for another victory, after blasting through the field from 14th on the grid to lead the race. Iannone's pace was simply incredible, at least half a second and often eight tenths of a second faster than the rest of the field, the Speed Master rider slicing past the competition as if they were not there. But once he took the lead, Iannone threw it all away, dropping the bike on the way into Estoril's tight chicane, remounting, but only making it up to 13th. If Iannone could improve his qualifying, then the Italian could make the Moto2 races as dull a spectacle as the 125s have been this year.

Though assisted by the mistakes of others - most notably, Thomas Luthi and Andrea Iannone making an uncharacteristic and typical mistake respectively - Stefan Bradl leads the Moto2 championship by being a model of calm consistency. Everything is going to plan for the German, with the Kalex chassis working very much as hoped. Two wins from three races is a strong basis to start the season on, and Bradl has looked dangerous at every single track in 2011.

The Kalex chassis is not the only German chassis on the grid, of course, though the MZ team have swapped their own steel trellis frame, designed by Martin Wimmer, for an aluminum twin spar chassis built by another East German manufacturer. While Max Neukirchner continues on the 2010 FTR chassis that his side of the garage purchased while waiting for the trellis frame to be developed sufficiently, Ant West has switched over to a chassis made by IAMT. The chassis has already been raced in the Spanish championship, and West tested the bike at Jerez and immediately pronounced himself happy with the new chassis. Estoril was a different story, the bumpy track revealing a host of problems that the smooth surface at Jerez had masked, but West and his team are hoping that a revised linkage and some suspension modifications will finally make the Australian as competitive as he and his many fans believe he can be. Though the debut on the IAMT chassis was pretty miserable in terms of results, the atmosphere in that garage has turned around completely. West just might be a dark horse a little later in the season, and not just when it rains.

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Comments

Great writeup as usual David, though one thing that I believe needs a mention is just how consistent Simone Corsi is riding this year, on what appears to be a slightly recalcitrant FTR.
He is again, after a more than solid run at Estoril, up to third in the championship - where he spent the majority of last season (on the also not totally up to speed Moto-bi).
He has been the top FTR in just about every session, though has still only qualified in the low teens each race, only to put in a storming start each Sunday morning, and normally ends the race in the top 6 at worse.

I don't know why it is but the media and most posters continue to blow hot air up this man's ar$e. On the back of what? Yes he is an extremely talented rider and has been so since competing as a teenager in Japan. But then virtually every rider in GP's is extremely talented and I would suggest a lot of them on the Moto2 grid have a wee bit more. O.K West has had more than his share of bad luck in his career, but he's had a couple of decent breaks too and perhaps hasn't always made the right career choice.

But beyond being from an Anglo Saxon colonised country there is no good reason to single him out as having 'potential' as much as the english speaking media do.

Ant West has had plenty opportunity to make a splash and did not capitalize. There is a little bit of a pattern here and there is indeed plenty of other talent around that will capitalize. I think the time for hyping West has long passed.

While some supportive language may end up being close to 'hype', I think that issues like this come with every form of media that will be attracted by one form of common association or another. The English language TV people talked about him, Stoner, Chas Davies and others because they made themselves available in the paddock for interviews and socialization. But they all had their unique stories and filled time well. West has the advantage of a few years of experience riding 500s and then the Kawasaki. That's not a common thing on a racers resume. If a Spanish or Italian rider was more forthcoming with conversation with English speaking journos I think they'd get more talk in English language outlets. Rather than saying that West doesn't deserve the attention he receives in the press, I'd ask why don't we get to hear more from Japanese riders.

because he is so much of an underdog, under-appreciated rider over-performing on sub-par bikes.
There was the Kawasaki in MotoGP, and he was pretty decent on it, and then world supersport where he was on fire before his team shut down because they had no budget (ironically the same team half shut down in WSBK with his former MotoGP teammate Hopkins).
Now in Moto2 he landed the MZ which is the worst bike of the field while he has much more credentials than most of the other riders, the guy just sweats bad luck from every pore and that makes it sympathetic to some.

125 is indeed too low on talent - Cortese in particular seems to have reached his ceiling and the only reason he has consistent podium finishes is because more talented riders such as Marquez, Pol Espargaro, etc. have moved up to Moto2. Cortese wouldn't even be in the Top 20 in Moto2. This does beg the question - how can the talent be more evenly distributed? Should riders with limited potential such as Faubel and Gadea even be allowed to return to 125 to create "phantom success" with less competition around? Maybe the change to Moto3 and the larger grid in MotoGP can help here. Another idea is to lower the maximum age for 125/Moto3 to let's say 21 years old or so. That would make it a true development series for junior riders and prevent Faubel et al. to return just to get a less competitive environment. Terol is the real deal though...

As far as Moto2 the competition is great and Iannone provides great entertainment. Would love to see him go head-to-head with Simoncelli in MotoGP next year and create some fireworks :)

The main problem is the lack of opportunities for Moto2 riders to move up to MotoGP which will hopefully change in the future. When you're not performing or have a bad bike the only option is to go back to Moto2 (i.e. Aleix Espargaro, Mika Kallio, Alex de Angelis) or go to SBK or something. This creates a log-jam in Moto2 that long-term is not going to be sustainable.

One question answered - why his bike suddenly became a slow IAMT and not an slow MZ.
The other is how a rider can be so consistently fast in the wet without dry results to back it up. One answer could be that his bikes haven't been good enough for dry results but that seems too simplistic. Any suggestions?

I've read interesting interview of Sofuoglu today. He was complaining about Suter chassis that they don't do the requested modifications by Kenan. He said '10 chassis is better, but wears out the rubber quite fast, that even in Estroil he slowed down as the race goes on, due to the lack of traction.

And guess what he plans to do?! He is talking about switching to Kalex chassis during the session. Seems he arranged a test in upcoming days as well. Couldn't quite assessed how it's going to effect his performance though. Would you reckon this would be a clever move, or the quite opposite?

Aegerter on the same bike (right?) drove more conservatively and was able to get some solid points. Looks like Sofuoglu is pretty hard on the bike/rubber regardless of his chassis issues. It will be interesting to see if a change is going to benefit him...