A crash for two of the championship contenders, a three-rider title fight covered by five points, a seven-way scrap for the win… as ever Moto2 and 3 provided plenty of drama at the Aragon Grand Prix. Here we take a look at last weekend’s big talking points.
Turn Two Trouble
Ask any rider to point to Motorland Aragon’s most demanding string of tarmac, and the majority will say turn two. A fast right attacked in third gear, it’s the first occasion the right side of the front tyre is used in over 40 seconds. In other words, plenty of time for the rubber to cool, making the high-speed entry particularly perilous.
Jorge Martin had mentioned to pit lane reporter Simon Crafar on Sunday morning how he had issues with his front tyre cooling when in clear air. According to the former Moto3 world champion, it was not such an issue when riding behind others, but the cold temperatures that greeted riders all weekend contributed to 16 of the weekend’s 40 falls happening there.
And it was here the Moto2 race was decided. A three-way fight was just ten laps old when Fabio Di Giannantonio tucked the front of his Speed Up chassis as he pitched right into the track’s second turn and ended in the gravel – his second fall there of the day. The Italian had chased down early leader Marco Bezzecchi and pole sitter Sam Lowes, moving to the front with an expert pass on the former on lap ten.
The mistake was more down to Di Giannantonio’s desire to utilise his own strengths on the pair behind. “The strategy was to go to the front and impose my pace because in the first two sectors I was definitely faster and I wanted to make the difference there,” the Speed Up rider later lamented. “I went wide and the bike closed the front. I wasted that opportunity.”
Interesting how a similar fate befell Bezzecchi on the penultimate lap. Stronger than Lowes through turn two and the final sector, the Italian finally stretched his lead from 0.5s to 0.8s three laps from the flag. But by doing so he was on the absolute limit. “Bezzecchi was pushing a lot. He was taking more risks than me in turn two and 14. I couldn’t match him,” said Lowes. By treating turn two with a degree of caution, the Englishman’s intelligent approach resulted in a second win in seven days.
Enea’s smooth embrace
On Sunday morning Enea Bastianini was in danger of seeing another round drift away. We had seen little in the way of a response to disappointing results in Barcelona and France as he struggled through free practice and ended Saturday by qualifying twelfth. He would later describe it as “A disaster weekend for me.”
But not for the first time in 2020, the 22-year old saved his best for race day. Starting well (he picked off four riders on lap one), he ghosted through the top six to contest second with Jorge Martin once Di Giannantonio and Bezzecchi had fallen. His two moves on his former Moto3 rival at turn 13 late on were beautifully executed, and displayed his braking prowess. “Today I was really strong on the brakes,” he said of the battle. “This was the key.”
The secret in the turnaround, he explained, was letting it all flow. An over-eagerness to right the previous weekend’s wrongs was apparent in his riding on Friday and Saturday. Bastianini was too aggressive in his movements around Motorland Aragon’s long, flowing curves, an approach that held him back.
“I started really far behind. Yes, I’m the leader of the championship but it was important to be fast today. After a disaster weekend for me it’s good to take the podium. The key of this podium is to be relaxed. This weekend I was really aggressive with the bike on track. My style for this type of track wasn’t correct. But in the race I started riding more (smoothly) and with fun! Finally I battled with Jorge in the final three laps.”
The second place was as timely as it was impressive. Bastianini now jumps ahead of Marini to lead the championship for the first time. “When Luca crashed I thought I had another opportunity to attack,” he said. “I think, ‘You have to go on the podium and recover the gap.” Just four races sit between La Bestia and that first taste of title glory. His ability to improve from one weekend to the next at double-headers at the same track should make him very tough to beat at the Teruel Grand Prix.
The VR46 Academy’s weekend to forget
The weekend got off to a shaky start for Italy’s most prominent riding school. Valentino Rossi’s positive Covid-19 test sent shockwaves around the paddock and put him out of both Aragon weekends. The fortunes of his school of proteges sadly didn’t fare much better.
Franco Morbidelli’s victory challenge never materialising and Pecco Bagnaia’s early crash out of the MotoGP event were tame when compared to the disasters faced by the Academy’s junior class contingent. In Moto3 Celestino Vietti never got close to the lead group and finished a disappointing ninth, albeit 2.3s from the winner. Andrea Migno crashed early on.
But Moto2 was where the real heartache came. Bezzecchi’s late crash out of the lead as already been covered. Similarly, Luca Marini will want to erase this weekend from his memory as soon as possible. Despite claims from team boss Pablo Nieto that he was “at 100%”, the championship leader was on the ropes from Friday morning, lacking confidence as a consequence of his horrifying spill at Le Mans the week before.
An issue with his front forks on Saturday morning then deprived him of the limited set-up time required to match the leading trio of Lowes, Bezzecchi and Di Giannantonio in the race. His mistake – “I probably entered the corners 0.5 kph per hour faster than the other laps and lost the front” – while sitting sixth on lap three was small, but the consequences were profound.
“We didn't make the most of Friday,” explained a downcast Marini on Sunday. “I was still feeling the after-effects of Le Mans and I wasn't able to do the job I wanted. In FP3 I had a problem on the bike, we were late and I was forced to follow my opponents. I tried to start well, not to lose contact with the group and stay in the positions around the top five before the mistake.”
With four to go, Marini is on the ropes. He now faces the toughest test of his five years at world level to rescue the championship he seemed destined to win as recently as September.
Arbolino negative, but out
More unfortunate than Rossi’s absence at the Aragon GP, was the case of Tony Arbolino. Unlike his 41-year old countryman, the Moto3 title challenger tested negative for Covid-19 three times but was forced to miss the eleventh round of 2020 because he sat within three rows of a positive case when flying from France to Italy on the Sunday of the French Grand Prix.
Italy’s track and trace system came into effect and Arbolino was notified on Friday that he could play no part in the Aragon GP. FIM Medical Officer Giancarlo Di Filippo explained, “(Tony) was informed by the Italian authorities that he was close to someone on the flight that was positive. The national rules of Italy and Spain state he needs to be considered as someone that had close contact, meaning he has to be treated like he tested positive. The Spanish rules are for ten days (of isolation).”
Not only is it unfortunate in the extreme; the result was desperate for Arbolino’s title ambitions. He was 20 points behind of leader Albert Arenas coming into the weekend, and now sits 29 back.
This incident has served as a precious reminder of the perils of travelling outside of one’s bubble during a global pandemic. “The story of Arbolino is a great example that you can’t do anything to escape this problem,” said Francesco Bagnaia, who decided not to travel back to Italy between Aragon races. “I’m very scared seeing how things have been going lately. It’s right to stay out here. It’s a difficult world championship, even mentally. The situation is affecting me a bit.”
Alex Rins was another rider to state he would no longer travel on planes during this time after learning of Arbolino’s case. Thankfully for the Italian teenager, he is back for the Teruel Grand Prix having served his ten days of self-isolation.
Moto3 Riders’ market on overdrive
As we edge toward November, the 2021 Moto3 grid is taking shape. And it includes a few surprises. John McPhee turned down a Forward MV Agusta seat in Moto2 to remain with the Petronas Sprinta Honda squad for a third straight year, where he can contest the title once more. There he will be joined by Darryn Binder.
Raul Fernandez’s debut Moto3 podium came soon after he was confirmed in the Red Bull Ajo KTM squad for a second year. Kaito Toba is out and off to CIP KTM. Aragon GP winner Jaume Masia comes in his place. The seat vacated by Masia in Leopard Honda will be filled by teenage sensation Xavi Artigas, the rider that scored a podium on his grand prix debut at Valencia a year ago as a wildcard. Dennis Foggia has a chance to work on his consistency, the Italian staying in Leopard colours for a second year.
It’s believed Sky Racing VR46’s Moto3 will cease at the end of November with Celestino Vietti moving up to the team’s Moto2 squad. Andrea Migno is off to Snipers Racing Honda, where he will team up with Filip Salač. Gabriel Rodrigo has somehow kept his seat at Gresini Honda despite failing to score a podium finish in his two seasons there. The fast but wild Jeremy Alcoba will stay on for a second year. Ayumu Sasaki and Deniz Öncü remain at Tech 3 KTM for a second year.
As well as Sky, Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda are reported to be pulling the plug on its Moto3 operation after lead rider Sergio Garcia signed for Aspar KTM. Tatsuki Suzuki has re-signed for the SIC58 Squadra Corse but the future of Niccolo Antonelli remains unclear after a shocking season. Max Racing will continue running Husqvarna machinery (re-badged KTMs) for 2021 and are waiting for Romano Fenati’s decision on whether he will stay.
Then there is the curious case of runaway Red Bull Rookies Cup leader Pedro Acosta. Initially it was announced he and the Fundacion Andreas Perez 77 (with whom he is competing in this year’s FIM Moto3 Junior World Championship) had joined forces with PruestelGP to team him up with Swiss teenager Jason Dupasquier for 2021. But that has since fallen through with the two entities unable to merge. Acosta is on the market and there should be no shortage of offers coming his way from other teams.
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