This is part two of our Indy round up, covering the excellent Moto2 race, and the intriguing Moto3 race. If you want to read about MotoGP, see part one.
The Moto2 race turned out to be a barnstormer, a welcome return for the class. Once, Moto2 was the best race of the weekend, but in the past couple of years, it has become processional, and turned into dead air between the visceral thrills of Moto3 and the tripwire tension of MotoGP. At Indy, Johann Zarco, Alex Rins, Franco Morbidelli, Dominique Aegerter and Tito Rabat battled all race long for supremacy. They were joined at the start of the race by a brace of Malaysians, Hafizh Syahrin running at the front while Azlan Shah fought a close battle behind. Sam Lowes held on in the first half of the race, but as he started to catch the leaders in the last few laps, he ended up crashing out.
In the end, it was Alex Rins who took victory, just rewards for the man who had been the best of the field all weekend. It was Rins' first victory in Moto2, and confirmation of his status as an exceptional young talent. MotoGP factories are showing a lot of interest in Rins, but having learned his lesson with Maverick Viñales, who left after just one year, Sito Pons has Rins tied down to a two-year deal. Will Rins be a comparable talent to Viñales? Many believe he will.
Rins wasn't the only young rider to make an impression. After crashing out trying to get on the podium at the Sachsenring, Franco Morbidelli finally succeeded at Indianapolis. The 21-year-old Italian made the transition from Superstock successfully, and is part of a growing revival of Italian motorcycle racing. He will hope that his first podium marks the step to being a permanent fixture at the front.
Rins may have beaten Johann Zarco, but the Frenchman still managed to extend his lead at the front. Like Rossi in MotoGP, Zarco understands the value of a podium. Finishing second to Rins was a fantastic success for what had been a very difficult weekend. The Frenchman had barged his way forward extremely aggressively to get involved in the battle for victory, but in the end, he had to concede the win to Rins. His aggressiveness was still rewarded: he may have lost 5 points to Rins, but with Tito Rabat only finishing in fifth, Zarco extended his championship lead to 71 points. He has the Moto2 title ever more securely in his grasp.
If the MotoGP and Moto2 podiums were a safe but low-paying bet, anyone who got the Moto3 podium right will by now be on their way to purchase their own small country. Rainfall after the end of warm up had left the track wet, but it was quickly drying on the sighting lap for Moto3. Those whose potential had been wrecked by poor qualifying gambled on starting the race with slicks, despite the track still being very wet in patches. John McPhee in eighteenth, Livio Loi in twenty-sixth, and Philipp Oettl in thirty-fourth and dead last all took that bet, and it paid off big. McPhee, unsure of the rules, feared he had been disqualified when the IRTA officials pointed him to pit lane after he had changed tires on the grid. It was not a disqualification, he merely had to start from there.
Livio Loi had made that call earlier, and started from the grid on slicks. His team manager, former racer Jarno Janssen, had told him that using slicks would be difficult in the first few laps, but gave him a real shot at victory. Janssen's word proved to be good as gold, Loi pushing hard and inheriting the lead once the rest of the grid all pitted for new tires. With just one bike, the Moto3 machines must manually swap tires, a time-consuming business. That gave Loi a very generous cushion which he only had to manage for the race to take his very first, and a very well deserved victory.
Loi may have taken advantage of the competition removing themselves from the equation, but that does not mean that his win was taken by default. Take away the minute and a half gained by not having to pit for fresh rubber, and Loi is still right in with the podium battle. Loi was unlucky to lose out on a podium last year, and was dominant in the Red Bull Rookies Cup. The young Belgian has bags of talent, but has been his own worst enemy. A win may finally prove to him that hard work and aggression is worth the effort, and can bring him success.
To an extent, Loi's story is mirrored by the other two men on the podium. All three are huge talents hampered more by circumstance. Loi and Philipp Oettl have been their own obstacles to success, while John McPhee has had his team situation holding him back. After taking second at Indy, and his first podium, McPhee rued the lack of testing he has had. "I've been pushing really hard, obviously it's going to be so beneficial for us. At the end of the day, everybody wants results, and if you need to go and spend a bit of money, do a day's test or whatever, then to me it's a no-brainer."
The team management seems to believe otherwise, and the only test McPhee will get is after Misano, when there is an official IRTA test. But McPhee saw this podium as confirmation that testing would be a valuable investment. "We came really close to some podiums last year, we just missed out two or three races in a row, we had a few front row starts, so we do know we can run up there. I wouldn't be feeling so confident if I didn't know that, but I know I can be on podiums, I know I can win races in good conditions and proper races. We just need to get that package together and I'm sure we can be here more often."
The Moto3 podium was a joyous sight to behold. Every one of them, Loi, McPhee and Oettl, were delighted to be there. There were no irritations at missing out, at losing points in the championship, or at falling short of a better result. It was pure unadulterated bliss. And speaking of things unadulterated, it was also a relief to see a rider drinking water out of a plain bottle, one of the bottles of water provided by the circuit, rather than through a branded water bottle with the logo of an energy drink plastered all over it. It is an open secret that what the riders drink in Parc Ferme and on the grid is water, rather than the overpriced caffeinated sugar water sold under the banner of energy drinks. To see the reality of the situation shown plainly was a rather delicious irony. Motorcycle racers, like so many young people their age, do actually drink the energy drinks they promote. It's just that they drink them as a leisure activity, not part of their sport. Sporting performance is far too important to jeopardize by the consumption of energy drinks.
The Moto3 podium was also a testament to talent programs around Europe. Loi and Oettl are both products of the Red Bull Rookies, and Loi is one of the first major talents to have been produced by the program put in place by the Dutch motorcycle federation KNMV. Loi raced in the NSF100 Cup promoted by former race team manager Arie Molenaar, and then the Moriwaki Cup, a series which is now known as the Junior 250 Cup, and which takes talent from around Northern Europe and provides an affordable series for them to showcase their talent on Grand Prix circuits. John McPhee is a product of the Racing Steps Foundation, a program which funds talented young British riders through the Spanish championship and into Moto3. The Racing Steps Foundation has been instrumental in promoting British talent, and been exceptional at identifying and nurturing riders who will go on to perform. Behind all of these programs are a lot of talented and hardworking people, dedicated to ensure that motorcycle racing has a future. They, as much as the riders who were on the podium on Sunday, deserve the praise and plaudits heaped upon the riders they have produced.
The other irony of the Moto3 podium is that the result of the race did not have that much of an effect on the championship. Despite the fact that Danny Kent failed to score, he only lost 10 points to his main rival Enea Bastianini, and 13 points to Romano Fenati. Kent still leads by 56 points, though the Englishman was furious after the race. Rightly so, as he had lost all his time in pit lane. "I came in with Brad Binder, with Karel Hanika, they were in the group for up to fourth place, I came in with them, and our team just took too long to change wheels. They left the pits about thirty, forty seconds before us, and that was it from there, our race was over. In all honesty, it's more of the team's fault, we were just too long in pit lane."
The timesheets bear Kent's story out. Taking the in and out laps of Kent, Bastianini and Fenati, it is clear just how much time Kent lost in the pits. Fenati did his in lap in 1'59.824, and his out lap in 3'17.457, spending something like a minute or so changing tires. Bastianini took a little longer, his in lap coming in 2'06.244, his out lap 3'32.741. In contrast, Kent's in lap was comparable, a 2'01.552. His out lap, on the other hand, was 4'20.287, over a minute slower than Fenati's, and 48 seconds slower than Bastianini's. Take away that difference from the total race time (compensating for the fact that Kent is down a lap by adding a typical lap), and Kent's race time could have been around the 41'55 mark. That would have put him in fourth, ahead of Romano Fenati, ahead of Enea Bastianini.
As furious as Kent was, he still leads the championship, and he still looked strongest all weekend. He did not have the massive advantage he had at other circuits, but he was still clearly the class of the field. Once he has thrashed out what happened in pit lane, why it took so long to change the tires, he should be ready for Brno, confidence in his team restored. Despite the bizarre and difficult race, the championship is still Kent's to lose.
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