As always Moto2/3 delivered a wide range of talking points at the French Grand Prix. Sunday’s results threw up a host of surprises. With just five races remaining, both championships remain finely poised. Here, we take a look through some of the big talking points from both classes.
Moto2 start line mix up explained
The race began in bizarre circumstances as pole sitter Joe Roberts was dragged off the grid, started the warm up lap from pit lane, and then watched the race get underway before he had a chance to line up on the grid.
So what the hell happened? Well, the intermediate class followed MotoGP on Sunday afternoon. The track was wet but drying rapidly. The majority of Moto2 riders left pit lane for their sighting lap on wet tyres but soon realised only slicks would do. The grid then became a flurry of activity as teams not only changed tyres, but adjusted their bikes from wet to dry setup.
The American Racing Team attempted too much. The rules state, “All adjustments must be completed by the display of the 3-Minute board. After this board is displayed, riders who still wish to make adjustments must push their machine to the pit lane.” As that board was raised, a highly bemused Roberts and his machine were shown off the grid.
“We had set the bike up for wet conditions because all Friday it was taking forever to dry,” Roberts said. “We assumed the track would be wet. As soon as I went out I saw the dry line and said (to the team) ‘Let’s fit the dry tyres.’ On the grid I said to put the dry set-up. Unfortunately, the guys couldn’t get it done quick enough.”
As the rule book states, “Such riders will start the warm up lap from the pit lane and will start the race from the back of the grid.” The only thing was Roberts just exited pit lane while the light was green. The first riders were forming on the grid as Californian rounded the Chemin aux Boeufs esses – close to half a lap away.
From here the starter, responsible for changing the grid lights, believed all riders were present on the grid. But Roberts was just rounding the final double right as the field took off. It appears a miscommunication was the reason for the mix up.
“I was assuming I was going to line up on the back of the grid but I came around the last corner and everyone was already gone,” Roberts said. “I didn’t understand what was going on. I sat up and thought, ‘Did they just take another warm-up lap? Oh, the race has just started. So I had to get it going.”
Get it going he did. It was a cruel outcome for Roberts, who believes he had the speed to fight at the front. But his fightback from 29th to sixth wasn’t bad going.
Battle of Britain
These are heady times for the UK in Moto2. Sam Lowes’ revival has taken most by surprise. But Jake Dixon’s step up from top 20 finisher to victory contender in the past two months has been remarkable. It speaks of how far the former British Superbike has come in recent times that he was disappointed only to have qualified eighth.
Both he and Lowes were on another level on Sunday, riding clear of a pack consisting of Remy Gardner, Marco Bezzecchi and Augusto Fernandez with relative ease. Jorge Martin and Xavi Vierge crashed trying to keep up. After Lowes’ terrifying front-tyre lock at Garage Vert on lap seven, Dixon looked composed, 1.2 seconds clear. A first British 1-2 in the intermediate class since 1975 was on the cards, when Chas Mortimer and Derek Chatterton finished first and second at the Isle of Man TT.
But the showdown never came as Dixon crashed out at Raccordement five laps from the flag. In heartbreaking circumstances, The Englishman still sounded upbeat. “The main thing is I was leading the race and was really fast. I can look back on today’s race and reflect that I was doing a really good job and I know I’m going to be fast from here onwards,” he said.
That left Lowes free to cruise to a first grand prix win in just over four years. As he said after, “It’s been coming … The moment at turn eight was a sign for me. I just tried to stay relaxed. It was nice in them conditions to follow somebody and understand a bit more. I’m really proud of getting back on the top step of the podium, it’s been too long. I’ve had some tough times but we’ve turned it around. The first idea when I joined this team was to be back and competitive. That was the only thing I was thinking about.”
On how he has returned as a leading name in the class, the 30-year old pointed to several factors. “I’ve improved my use of the rear brake,” he said. “My team have helped change some things on the bike and I can use it with a lever. My style in the last years is quite on the front, cutting a bit into the corners and asking a lot from the front of the bike. If I can use the rear to balance it out, that seems to be helping me a lot in (terms of) lap time, but also with less mistakes. With less mistakes you build the confidence and things go in a good way.
“Also, every member of the team is helping me in different ways. I feel a lot less heavy during the race weekend. I focus on what I need to and I let them do their job. It’s a big thing. When you can ride free, it’s what it’s about. I’ve also worked on the mental side. I can’t tell you one thing, it’s just the package. All these things together are helping me be more consistent.”
Luca Marini must be wondering what he did in a past life to ensure he is eternally cursed on French soil. Even before last weekend, the historic Bugatti Circuit will forever hold painful memories for the Moto2 title leader. It was here he dislocated his left shoulder in a first lap pile up in 2017, an injury that occurred repeatedly for the best part of the following 17 months.
Friday began ominously. Marini had just exited pit lane in FP1 when he lost control at turn four. Blushes all round. But worse was to come. The afternoon session was just minutes old when he was flung from his machine at turn five, the downhill left kink that leads into La Chapelle. The fact the track drops away considerably at that point heightened the 23-year-old’s impact as he came down.
It was an ugly scene that brought out the red flags. After an initial check in the medical centre, Marini was taken to hospital with fears he had broken the malleolus bone in his left ankle. Those were unfounded, but he was still severely battered and bruised when he returned to the circuit on Friday evening.
Older brother Valentino Rossi could be overheard saying, ‘What ****ing tyres are they using in Moto2?” when waiting outside the medical centre on Friday afternoon. But the fall was down to track conditions, not tyres. There was a damp patch at turn five so pronounced Cal Crutchlow – fresh from MotoGP FP2 – went immediately to good friend Sam Lowes’ garage to warn him of the danger.
Marini qualified a heroic sixth on Saturday but he was unwilling to risk it all in the damp, drying conditions on Sunday. He slipped down the order to finish a deeply disappointing 17th. “I had no feeling with the bike,” the Italian said. “I wasn’t able to warm the tyres well in the first laps and I struggled a lot. The crashes on Friday didn’t help me.” His second non-score of the year and Enea Bastianini’s lacklustre showing have opened the door to Marco Bezzecchi and Sam Lowes. 22 points cover four riders with five races to go.
Thankfully for Luca, he was off and out of France on Sunday evening. But with five grand prix coming up over the next six weekends, this is no time to be carrying an injury.
2021 Moto2 grid taking shape
There have been almost been too many signings and agreements as the Moto2 grid for 2021 to keep up. Here is what we know so far: Luca Marini should be moving up to MotoGP with Avintia Ducati. Sky Racing VR46’s Moto3 star Celestino Vietti will step up and take his place. Joe Roberts is poised to take over the seat soon to be departed by Enea Bastianini at Italtrans. The American Racing Team will replace the Californian with another high-profile American. Five-time MotoAmerica champ Cameron Beaubier has been heavily linked with the seat. Meanwhile Marcos Ramirez will stay there for his second year in the class.
Sam Lowes and Augusto Fernandez will remain with Marc VDS for another season, and Intact GP has signed Moto3 race winner Tony Arbolino to partner Marcel Schrotter. Thomas Luthi will move across to Onexox SAG Racing team to replace Remy Gardner, who will join Tetsuta Nagashima in the Ajo Red Bull KTM squad. Fabio Di Giannantonio will swap a Speed Up chassis for Kalex hardware at Gresini Racing for 2021, where he will partner Nicolo Bulega. Jorge Navarro is poised to stay with Speed Up for a third season, with Sky Sports Italia reporting European Moto2 hotshot Yari Montella will replace ‘Diggia’.
Lorenzo Baldassarri will leave Sito Pons’s outfit and return to Forward Racing with their MV Augusta chassis. It’s a direct swap with Stefano Manzi going the other way. Forward Racing has made no secret of its desire to place John McPhee alongside ‘Balda’. The Italian outfit has a chance as the Scot has been told there is no room in Petronas Sprinta’s Moto2 squad, with Xavi Vierge already signed for 2021 and Jake Dixon set to keep his seat.
Moto3 championship leader Albert Arenas will definitely step up to the intermediate category, possibly with the Aspar team in place of Hafizh Syahrin. Ai Ogura has also been linked with a promotion to Honda Team Asia’s Moto2 set-up in the place of Andi Farid Izdihar. RW Racing NTS has taken a punt on Moto3 rookie Barry Baltus, meaning the luckless Jesko Raffin, who has been dogged by a mystery viral illness since July, is out.
Vietti steps it up
As the fifth race of 2020 came to an end, Celestino Vietti was contemplating a season that was getting away. At that point the Italian had failed to live up to his billing as a title contender, and lingered some 54 points back of the championship lead.
But how the 18-year old has fought back. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the future of his Sky Racing VR46 KTM Moto3 team at the French Grand Prix, and three crashes he suffered over the weekend, Vietti led home an eight-rider freight train on Sunday to thrust himself back into title contention.
He’s a smart kid, as Sunday showed. Through free practice his pace slowed considerably as the rear tyre dropped. So he exited in morning warm up with the harder option rear and found a good feeling. A man of his convictions, Vietti was the only rider in the 31-man field not to run the softer rear.
“We struggled all weekend with three crashes,” he said after his second grand prix win. “It was difficult to have a good feeling. But in warm up we tried a different setup and I felt good. We tried to manage the rear tyre better for the last part of the race. We made a step in this area. And In the last part of the race we were a bit faster, or with more feeling than the other riders.”
That late switch paid off. And now just 16 points back of title leader Albert Arenas, Vietti is as good a bet as anyone for the championship.
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