Anger Drives Luca On
Nothing fires a rider's motivation quite like feeling slighted. As mentioned in this column a week ago, Moto2 championship leader Luca Marini fully expected to be up front and fighting at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. Losing out in fights with Enea Bastianini and Sam Lowes clearly stung as he suffered the indignity of finishing fourth.
He arrived in Barcelona intent on proving a point. Fast through free practice, fastest in qualifying, the 23-year old Italian could have easily settled for second once Sam Lowes – the only rider capable of matching him over race distance – edged ahead on lap 16. But he later revealed that it wouldn't have sat right internally had he not responded.
“When I saw on the board ‘8 laps (to go)', the rear dropped a lot,” Marini explained, displaying all of the in-race intelligence that he shows off the bike. “Sam overtook me. He was really fast but pushing the rear tyre. I was hoping he would have a drop also, bigger than me. I tried to stay behind him, put pressure and in last 3 laps he started doing some mistakes.”
“Starting on Friday the feeling was great. We made the correct changes on the bike for here. The race was nice. With this low temperature it was easy to push every lap. We worked a lot on the engine brake to try and save the tyre, because I knew it was important.
“Sam was so fast. I was worried when he overtook me because I was struggling with the rear tyre. When he overtook I tried to push a bit more. Fortunately, I had something more and I could overtake him again. It was important for me to win this race. In Misano I was a bit angry. Also, the feeling here was great. I said here, ‘You need to win!'”
Championships are won in moments like these. In this form, Marini is well on course to achieve the first title of his career.
Speed Up Firing Once More
‘Unbelievable.' That was the word used by Speed Up team boss Luca Boscoscuro repeatedly when attempting to explain his riders' 2020 woes. Dunlop's change in front tyre profile had bamboozled Jorge Navarro and Fabio Di Giannantonio in the first seven races of the season, leaving them them lost at sea.
Austria was so bad ‘Diggia's' comments to the media prior to Misano were hinting at internal strife. “We made mistakes, both me and the team,” he said at a press event in Milan in early September. “I wasn't happy with some things, they weren't happy with others.”
With ten podiums to its name in 2019, Speed Up was fully expected to kick on this year with two riders capable of fighting for the title. A substantial set-up change at Misano finally gave Di Giannantonio more feel in braking. Immediately he was back in the top ten, scoring seventh and eighth places in back-to-back weekends.
Then to Barcelona, where Speed Up scored success with Andrea Iannone (2012) and Fabio Quartararo (2018) in the past. “Our bike always works really well here,” admitted Diggia. “But maybe less so this year.” In recent years the Italian chassis has been renowned for looking after the rear tyre better than the competition. It's carbon swingarm helps find traction on track surfaces where there usually is none.
That all contributed to Di Giannantonio enjoying his best weekend of the year, finishing a strong third. “Until here has been such a tough season,” he said post race. “At Misano we made a big step with the setup of the bike. We arrived here touching more or less nothing and the feeling was great from the beginning.
“I didn't know if I could be really, really fast like the top guys, like Luca and Sam. But my start was really good. I was just waiting because the race is long when you're at the front. I'm back here. I did a great race and it gives me more motivation for the next races.”
Dunlop's front tyre switch has thrown a host of names off course in 2020. Thomas Luthi, Jorge Navarro and Augusto Fernandez are all some way off their expected positions. But you'd be hard pressed to find a more dispiriting case than Lorenzo Baldassarri.
This was supposed to be the Italian's year to earn a place in MotoGP. Now free of the VR46 Academy, of which he had been a member from 2014, fresh faces and surroundings were supposed to lift him out of the funk he found himself in from mid-May last year.
“The support I have is great,” he explained back in Qatar. “I like the people around me now. This is important because I can feel quite quiet. My preparation is a bit different. Before I was in a group, and I was also training with the motorbike. Now I train but in a different group with motorbikes. Sometimes I go motocross (riding) with Dovi (Andrea Dovizioso) and Petrux (Danilo Petrucci). Also, Dovi is sometimes helping me. When I can, I train alone at the gym. So it's different.”
But how it's deteriorated since then. From an encouraging second in Qatar, Baldassarri has scored just 19 points in the eight races since. What's become increasingly clear is just how lost the Italian is. In the Czech Republic the team decided to switch his crew chief (Alfred Willeke was moved to Hector Garzo's side of the garage, with Santi Mulero moving to Balda's corner). They even agreed to switch the rider's chassis to see if his frame was at fault.
Neither have worked. In the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, he fitted the softer rear tyre for the restart. Within three laps he had burned it up completely, dropping him to 25th and last. Last place! At his home grand prix, where he scored his first grand prix win in 2016 no less. There was no upturn in Barcelona as he crashed out of 16th on the final lap and repeatedly cut a frustrated figure out on track.
In the May of last year he looked a shoe-in to be a MotoGP rider within two seasons. Now his presence in the paddock is in doubt. For such a likeable guy and a known talent, it hasn't been an easy watch.
With twelve different pole sitters and as many different winners, 2019 was the most open, varied year in the 71-year history of Moto3, and indeed grand prix's lightweight class. This year looks set to beat that with a five-way fight for the championship and another new winner on Sunday. That's seven in nine races for those that have lost count.
This was the turn of controversial South African Darryn Binder, who was known for a, let's say, overly eager approach to contact racing as recently as a year ago. Still very much a rough diamond – as evidenced in his Misano double crash – the younger Binder brother has smoothed out a few of his rough edges for 2020.
Riding with Green Power CIP KTM, one of the smaller outfits on the grid, Binder has been fighting at the front of each race this year. He's less inclined to bash into a rider's side when overtaking. Still, that consistency has remained a concern, as has his dismal qualifying record.
That was key here. Binder was only ninth on Saturday, his second-best qualifying performance of the year. He could remain in the lead group without drama before pouncing on Dennis Foggia for the lead on the final lap. “This weekend I felt strong,” he said of his first GP win. “I managed to qualify semi-decent for a change. I didn't have as much work to do during the race. It worked in my favour. At Misano I got to the front but ended up making mistakes in both races. Today I was able to get to the front and I was still strong at the end. I'm so happy to win my first race. I'm too stoked!
“This year I've definitely shown I can be up there. I've just been struggling with the qualifying and finishing the race. Yeah, I've finished more races, and been more consistent. But I've just missed out on the podium when I've been in the fight. Today I was able to not only get on the podium, but I was able to win the fight and the race. I hope I can move forward like this and get more podiums.”
In the right environment with the greater technical support the Petronas Sprinta Honda team will offer, we should be seeing a few more of these performances from the rider aptly nicknamed ‘Divebomb'.
Sky's protest thrown out
Something had clearly spooked Sky Racing VR46 during Misano 2 after its rider Celestino Vietti fought with Leopard Racing's Jaume Masia for the lead. No doubt, Masia's machine was fast. His teammate Dennis Foggia recorded the highest top speed of the weekend, while Masia's was the third quickest bike.
Vietti's team decided to protest the Spaniard's ECU anyway, suspecting there were some irregularities, and possible illegal strategies at play. Race direction examined Masia's ECU, then sent it off to Dellorto – supplier of the Moto3 ECUs to the entire field – for closer inspection. Neither found any wrongdoing.
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