MotoGP may have moved definitively toward one contender taking the crown. But a three-way title fight in Moto2 became four thanks to a surprise crash for leader Sam Lowes. And Any feeling 2020 was inching decisively in favour of Moto3 challenger Albert Arenas took just two laps to come apart. Here are a number of the big stories from the junior classes at the European Grand Prix.
Arenas loses his cool
Perhaps with the passing of time the Moto3 contest will be remembered for Raul Fernandez’s long-awaited first grand prix win. But it was Albert Arenas’ all-action showing that really caught the eye. Unfortunate in the extreme to get hit from behind when avoiding Celestino Vietti’s stricken KTM, the championship leader was forced into the pits with a snapped footrest bracket.
That should have been the end of his morning. But Arenas wasn’t finished. “I went into the garage pissed off, but the team tried to calm me,” he said. The team succeeded in mending the machine, but failed to defuse the rider. Rejoining in 30th place and three laps down, the Spaniard let the leading men by when shown the blue flags. But then came the madness. The 23-year old inexplicably started passing the riders in the fight for the second, including a ludicrous lunge on title rival Ai Ogura at the final turn – enough for Race Direction to show him the black flag.
There were protests afterward. “At all times I have followed the instructions,” Arenas protested. “I couldn't do anything else. There will be people who will understand that, who will appreciate the fact that we have fought to the end and who will appreciate what it takes to fight for a title.”
Well, not quite. It’s common racing etiquette to understand not to get involved in the leading positions when one lap down, never mind three. Whether a rider is faster or not is irrelevant, he cannot disrupt the flow of the race when three laps down. The fact he saved his most aggressive move for Ogura -now just three points back in the title fight – wasn’t a good look. The black flag was timely and fully warranted.
But a little perspective: any rider in this situation would be hot under the collar. Arenas is in the midst of a championship fight, was well positioned here before Vietti’s fall, and had the right to feel hard done by. Plus he had the speed. Despite rear brake damage, the fastest lap he posted on lap seven was 0.6s faster than anything any other rider managed in the entire race. In this case, Arenas’ judgement wasn’t sound but calls for further recriminations were too much. A championship challenger had just seen his victory chances evaporate through no fault of his own. I think we can all excuse Arenas’ judgement being clouded soon after.
Bezzecchi back from the brink
There have been a few tough moments in Marco Bezzecchi’s career. But the outcome of the Aragon double header was right among them. From being on course to take control of the Moto2 championship with two laps remaining in the Aragon GP, to somehow leaving both weekends with no points was, as the 21-year old put it, “a disaster.”
That made his victory in the European Grand Prix – his first clear win in Moto2 – all the more sweeter. And all the more impressive. Bezzecchi is showing himself to have the requisite mental fortitude to bounce back from real lows in fantastic fashion. Aside from leading 24 of the 25 laps, ‘Bez’ held on to his lead late on despite a transmission issue that caused him to speak to his bike.
“The second weekend in Aragon was a disaster,” he said on Sunday. “This win was even (sweeter) because of this. We did an incredible job, even if the bike was not perfect because we had no time ride in the dry. I was very concentrated.
“With three laps to go I had a problem on the bike, like I had on Friday in FP2. It was like something which didn’t cut the power completely when you downshifted into second gear, but it didn’t change clearly. Third gear was OK, but most of this track is in second gear! In that lap I saw 1.3 seconds on the pit board and said, ‘No, please, not now!’ I started to speak to the bike to calm her down. I started to put third gear earlier than normal. Fortunately, she arrived until the end.”
The result brings Bezzecchi into late contention, 29 points back with 50 to play. But he still sees a clear favourite: “For me Sam (Lowes) is a little bit stronger than me, Luca [Marini], Bestia [Enea Bastianini], everyone,” he said. “He made a mistake but today was very difficult. The track still had some wet patches. We never tried on the dry. It was very easy to make a mistake. He can come back strong.”
Gardner ‘dialing it back in’
At times it’s been a rocky road. But as his fifth season in Moto2 draws to a close, Remy Gardner is finally showing the consistency needed to fight for championships. Since that monster 160mph highside in the warmup of the San Marino GP, which fractured three bones in his left foot and required surgery to plate a broken thumb with six screws, the 22-year old has been a fixture of the top five.
Gardner didn’t have anything for Bezzecchi or Martin here. But his third place – a third podium of 2020 – follows a second place in France and a fifth and fourth at Aragon 1 and 2 – tracks that rarely suited his aggressive riding style in the past. When asked how he has achieved this consistency of late, the Australian was typically up front: “I’m taking it more step-by-step and not just going out and trying to smash everything all the time,” he said.
But the terrifying Misano crash may have had an effect. “I definitely learnt my lesson last year after so many mistakes in critical times,” Gardner said here. “Then I think the last few races I probably dialled it back a bit because of the injury to the hand in Misano. Maybe that changed it. I don’t know! But I’m definitely not crashing as much.”
That cooler mindset is very much apparent in the way Remy has carried himself this year. Once in Aki Ajo’s Red Bull backed set up, one would expect results to continue in this vein.
Thomas Luthi, where are you?
Of the established names struggling in Moto2, the case of Thomas Luthi is the most curious. Leaving a preseason test at Jerez in late February, I was convinced the Swiss rider would be at the very least one of the men to beat this campaign.
But it’s been desperate. Luthi qualified 26th for the Teruel Grand Prix. Here he finished 19th dropping him to ninth in the championship, a whopping 112 points off the top. So what the hell has happened?
“A strange year for the results,” he said at the European GP. “I felt really good in the Jerez tests. But then we started to lose performance in big steps. It started in Qatar. We got more problems and the struggle was bigger throughout the season. We tried to find a good set-up so I could feel confident. But I didn’t find one spot where I could say, ‘This is it. This is the way to go.’ Then we were lost. In Brno I started 26th. I was really trying in qualifying and said to the guys, ‘This is not possible!’ I don’t really have an explanation. The only thing which is new is this front tyre but I can’t put everything on that. I had in my career many tyre changes. I cannot really explain it at the moment.
“In many race weekends it’s felt like we’ve found a set-up, I felt better and could push to the limit, but the others were faster. I was pushing on the limit but the guys were minimum half a second – sometimes one second – faster. It was making me crazy! I didn’t have the answer where to grab on.”
He may have just one world title to his name. But some of Luthi’s numbers suggest he isn’t given enough acclaim. He will make his 300th Grand Prix start at the Valencia GP (only three riders in history have more) and only one man (Tony Mang) scored more podiums in the intermediate class. That’s more than Max Biaggi, Sito Pons, Dani Pedrosa and a host of other greats from the class. He’ll hope a change of scenery in the Onexox SAG team for 2021 can help him recover his form.
Ogura’s cold blues
Those were a concerning few weeks for Ai Ogura. The Japanese teenage sensation finished no lower than fourth in the first eight races, including six podiums. He even left Barcelona in September with the championship lead. But that was the beginning of a four-race lull that saw him score two ninths, an eleventh and a 14th. Aside from the Aragon GP, where he went against his teams wishes and selected the hard rear tyre, no one could quite put their finger on what exactly was going wrong.
“We had a really difficult time,” he admitted after finishing third in the European GP. “There were a few races when I was finishing at the back and I didn’t have a good feeling on the bike. They weren’t easy days. But the team pushed me to come back to here. In the last three or four races I was mentally… something strange. I don’t know myself (what it was). But I was slow so there was something wrong!”
One factor was the colder weather in recent weeks. Ogura couldn’t find a comfortable setting for the cold conditions in Barcelona, Le Mans or Aragon. And that, he said, caused him some difficulties. “The temperature has been quite cold since Barcelona. I could not adjust to this very well. And when I cannot go fast, mentally I go down and go down. Automatically I got slow!”
He was back to the Ogura of old here this weekend, though. With just three points separating Arenas and him, the championship is back within reach.
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