The smaller classes delivered once again at the Austrian Grand Prix as a dramatic Moto2 encounter, which had one hair-raising moment, resulted in an added dimension to the championship fight, while Moto3 produced the sixth closest top 15 finish in the history of the class. Here are some of the big talking points from Moto2 and Moto3 last weekend.
Had it not been for Johann Zarco and Franco Morbidelli’s terrifying collision in the MotoGP race, the sight of Hafizh Syahrin smashing into Enea Bastianini’s stricken machine on the exit of turn one would have been the takeaway image of the Austrian Grand Prix.
There were elements of Days of Thunder as the Malaysian was flung from his machine at well over 160 km/h, with parts of his Speed Up bike disintegrating around the oncoming pack. Dominique Aegerter, enjoying a replacement ride for NTS, narrowly missed his head. “Scary,” said the Swiss rider. “The debris literally flew around my ears. I was really lucky.”
This wasn’t the first time the Red Bull Ring’s turn one has witnessed such a spill. Remy Gardner’s collision with Alex Marquez so nearly ended in disaster at the same point a year ago, when Jorge Martin avoided hitting the Australian at 130 km/h by a matter of inches.
Bastianini later admitted this particular spill was down to losing top speed to the other riders in the leading group. “It was terrible. I did a big crash and after Syahrin hit my bike. I’m not happy because the bike in the straight was not really fast. At this track it’s a problem,” he told Dorna’s pitlane reporter Simon Crafar. The lack of traction control in the Moto2 class means this can be the outcome for riders that are a little overeager with the throttle.
Almost miraculously Syahrin was OK. “I feel good,” he said on Sunday. “I’m very lucky that I didn’t break anything in my body. But the crash was really nasty. I just feel pain in both of my legs, especially my left one. It’s not broken but it feels broken.” Despite a good deal of pelvic pain, the Malaysian will attempt to pass a fitness test today in order to ride this weekend.
This was more like it from Jorge Martin. The Spaniard bounced back from a disappointing Brno to dominate the race at the Red Bull Ring. Not even a red flag could affect him, as he bolted from both starts, holding of a determined Luca Marini challenge in the second outing. And it wasn’t straightforward, with the former Moto3 champ feeling less comfortable than the first. “The front was closing a lot. But I could manage the situation.”
After plenty of promise, Martin has finally propelled himself into the title fight. He now sits third overall, 19 points back of new championship leader Luca Marini. Another performance like this on Sunday and he’ll be a very real threat.
It’s been a rocky road to here. Martin was on the desperately uncompetitive KTM chassis in 2019, his rookie year in the class. But he took then teammate Brad Binder’s lead and took time to adapt. He remained focus and didn’t crash. “A year like this always makes you stronger,” he said. “Thanks to that, now I’m better at braking and at accelerating - we are seeing that in 2020.”
One of Martin’s big weaknesses is he doesn’t bounce. A massive preseason spill at Jerez’ fast turn seven ruptured ligaments in his knee and broke bones in his right foot. “I came to the preseason really motivated. Maybe too much,” he said back in February. But the suspension of racing has allowed him to recover fitness.
And the experience of team boss Aki Ajo “has helped me a lot; his experience has taught me to keep calm, to try to be cooler, to think things through better and not get angry when something doesn’t go well. I have been able to adapt to all these situations with his help.” There is a reason why he is expected to step up to MotoGP in 2021. On this evidence, Sunday’s victory will be the first of many.
Marini on top of the world
It’s taken four and a half years but Luca Marini has made it to the summit. The Italian leads a world championship for the first time thanks to an intelligent second place in Austria, a fine showing after another tricky qualifying, and one that adds weight to the thought he has what it takes to be world champion.
Having established himself as one of the class’ leading names in 2018 – a year in which he scored his first podium and victory – he flattered to deceive last year. But the reasons were clear: a crash at Le Mans in 2017 damaged his left shoulder, leaving him with a joint that had a worrying tendency to dislocate after the slightest of movements. An operation to correct this in the winter of 2018 took time to heal, leaving Luca under strength in the first third of last year.
Then he was caught out by Dunlop’s rear tyre change at last season’s Spanish Grand Prix. Its bigger profile, Marini felt, did not match the 2019 front, which was identical to the one used in 2018, when the bikes were smaller and using Honda CBR600 engines. “The tyre that we had before was not matched with the rear tyre,” he said back in Qatar. He took to Dunlop’s new front tyre, with a bigger profile and contact patch immediately. “The bike is more in balance now. Last year, I felt a lot of pushing the front from the rear tyre.”
The Sky Racing VR46 squad has also had a reshuffle. His new crew chief, Jairo Carriles, moved across from Sito Pons’ squad. The list of riders Carriles has worked alongside include Luis Salom, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo and Lorenzo Baldassarri. New data technician Dani Villar has also added to the team, while the arrival of Marco Bezzecchi as Marini’s team-mate has improved the atmosphere internally, with the pair regularly working together out on track.
Expect another podium challenge this Sunday.
Moto3 has never been closer
It’s rare a journalist writes the statement ‘Moto3 race was the calmest of the day’. But that’s not to say it didn’t have its moments. The first race of the Austrian Grand Prix was entertaining from the first lap to last, with Albert Arenas’ perfectly judged last lap attack another example of his title credentials.
At the close of a frantic fight just 2.6 seconds covered the top 15 at the flag, making it the sixth tightest finish in the history of the lightweight class. Seven of the ten closest top 15 finishes have all come in the last three seasons. The other three were between 2014 and ’17, showing the Moto3 category is the tightest in history.
Rules stipulate all machines provided by a manufacturer must be the same. And as it stands there is very little to choose between the 14 Hondas, 15 KTMs are two Husqvarnas (rebranded KTMs) on the grid. Last season the Hondas enjoyed a notable top speed advantage. It is also renowned for its better cornering ability. But this year the KTM has caught up on both fronts, meaning it is now possible for 17 riders to be covered by three seconds, as they were on Sunday.
Runaway victories are now uncommon. Just two of last season’s 19 races were won by more than one second (and one of those was in wet conditions). Expect the same frantic fight this Sunday.
Fernandez learning, lurking
Of the six riders at the head of the Moto3 championship, Raul Fernandez is the only one to have scored points in all five races to date. But Aki Ajo’s latest prodigy couldn’t hide his disappointment on Sunday, even with that record in mind.
The 19 year old’s results haven’t been bad: three sixth places, never lower than tenth. What’s more the 2018 Junior Moto3 World Champion has yet to finish further than 2.7 seconds off the race winner, indicating he isn’t far away. It’s a decent return for a rider in only his second season in the class and adapting to a new team.
Yet Fernandez’s race craft is still some way off. The speed is there, both over one lap and when riding alone. He’s racked up two pole positions on the bounce and regularly featured in the top three in free practice sessions at every track we’ve visited this year.
At Jerez he tried to do too much, too soon, wearing his tyres out when attempting to run with – and overtake – the leaders. He couldn’t place himself perfectly at Brno and in Austria his struggles in the final sector held him back.
“He’s still quite young,” said team boss Ajo back in Brno. “What he needs to learn now is how to manage the race and handle everything in it. A rider always needs time for this. And I hope Raul gives himself enough time (to learn).”
Ajo was also quick to put down suggestions his rider is already too tall for a Moto3 machine.
“For me it’s a little bit unprofessional to talk about the size. It’s so many different things other than size, that’s not the only thing. It’s a professional rider. His background means he works on the maximum to make sure he has the minimum weight that he can have.”
One thing is for sure: once Fernandez figures out his race craft, we’ll be looking at a future title challenger. Now for that final step.
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