Joan Mir wrapped up the MotoGP title with a round to go. But the junior classes will go right to the wire after two dramatic encounters at the Valencian Grand Prix. Moto2 produced its best race of the year, Moto3 its biggest winning margin of the year. Here, we look at last weekend’s big talking points in the junior classes.
Chaos reigns in vintage finale
As fun and open as Moto2 has been this year, a race wasn’t decided on the final lap (Jorge Martin’s controversial penalty at the Styrian GP aside) from round 1 to round 13. Here, it would have been hard to conjure up more drama if events had been penned by a Hollywood scriptwriter.
Once European GP winner Marco Bezzecchi hit the front on lap five, it was hard to see a way back from his pursuers. But by Sunday lunchtime the wind had picked up considerably from the morning, making the Moto2 machines nervous and twitchy. “With the wind, I really struggled,” said Bezzecchi. “The bike was very nervous, I had little grip.” This surely played a major part in the nature of the top five: just 0.8s covered first to fifth after 25 laps.
As did Di Giannantonio. He and Bezzecchi had more than a second in hand over the pursuers with five laps remaining. But the Speed Up man’s two moves pushed them wide, allowing the rest back into play. It was a finale to remember.
First Fabio Di Giannantonio crashed out of a comfortable lead at turn six. Jorge Martin’s move on Bezzecchi at turn twelve pushed both wide. “My only chance to win today was overtaking in this corner – corner twelve. In the last corner I wasn’t so competitive,” said Martin. But as Bezzecchi attempted to switch inside, there was more drama. “As soon as I leaned left the bike started to shake. And also Hector passed me,” he said.
From starting the lap fourth, Garzo was suddenly second. And he knew it would be foolish to attempt a pass under Martin into the final turn. “In the last sector I was really, really strong in all the two weekends,” the Pons rider said. “When Jorge passed Marco in twelve, it was really close. I was coming faster than them but I couldn’t pass. There was no space. I tried to not pass Jorge on the brakes into the last corner.”
Just as well. For Martin had “closed (the line) so much I thought if someone tried to overtake me, we’d crash. It was so tight.” Garzo’s attempts to outdrag the Ajo rider to the line failed with 0.072s covering the top two, with Bezzecchi just 0.2s back in third. A brilliant battle among the very best we’ve seen this year.
Not for the first time in 2020, Fabio Di Giannantonio couldn’t keep his head when it really mattered. For the second time in four races, the Italian crashed out of the lead. That this incident came on the final lap when comfortably clear of Bezzecchi behind was all the more galling. Speed Up’s wait for a first Moto2 win in 53 months goes on.
“A superb performance up to 2km from the end,” said Di Giannantonio here. “When I decided to attack, I felt I was going faster. I passed it on the penultimate lap and was hoping to create a small gap.” That he did. His lead was six bike lengths as he pitched into turn six for the final time. Even with a relaxed approach, he still could have won with time to spare.
“We looked at the data and it is strange to us that we crashed because the manoeuvre was the same as in the previous lap,” he said, still in search of a first Moto2 win. “A shame because we were so close to victory. It’s part of the learning and growing process, so that’s OK.”
It wasn’t the first mistake when he hit the front. Having passed Bezzecchi for a first time at turn eleven, he soon made a mess of the final turn. A second move lost them more time. Having been out of it, Martin and co were on them. This was something that rankled with ‘Bez’ after the race. “When I was a little away with Diggia every time he passed me he pushed me very wide. We lost a lot of time. We had 1.5 seconds and in two laps with two overtakes we lost it all. For me he didn’t need all this space.”
Garzo on song
Little was expected of Garzo at the start of his first full year in Moto2. Last year’s MotoE contender only got a seat in Sito Pons’ squad thanks to Augusto Fernandez’s late defection to Marc VDS. And early season results weren’t forthcoming.
“This season has been really hard,” he said after his first podium in the class. “I remember thinking in Qatar, ‘This will be impossible to take a podium this year.’ After Austria my mind changed. I started to be focussed on the top riders.”
By Austria he had a footing, scoring his first top ten of the season. From there he became a regular point scorer, and knew the double headers at Aragon and Valencia would offer up great opportunities at tracks he knew well from his days in the European Moto2 championship.
“I kept working until the last races that I knew – two races in Aragon and two in Valencia. For Spanish riders for sure it’s perfect. To end the championship for me has been quite good. This is another reason for the progression.”
This rich run of form has come at just the right time. Last weekend whispers suggested team boss Sito Pons was seriously considering placing son Edgar in Garzo’s place for 2021. But he opted to remain with the former MotoE star. Garzo’s one-year contract extension is well deserved.
Lowes grits his teeth
Enea Bastianini takes a 14-point lead to Portugal mainly because of events on Saturday morning. Sam Lowes’ ugly spill on the exit of turn eight threatened to prematurely end his season and what had been a spirited late championship push. The first diagnosis wasn’t good. Twin brother Alex took Sam to the medical centre and was sure there was a fracture. Thankfully X-rays showed otherwise.
“It was quite late out of the corner,” Lowes later explained. “I was spinning up a little bit as you do in that part of the track. I made the gear shift and at that time I was maybe spinning a bit too much. I didn’t quite get the shift in. It didn’t engage properly. That caused the bike to jump out of gear and that’s not ideal. It can happen. A small mistake. It was alright until I got caught up with the bike. It got a bit ugly and was a rough one.”
A herculean effort meant he not only finished a punishing 25-lap race the following day, but scored two valuable points for his efforts. Overturning the current deficit is one hell of an ask. But Lowes has experience of Portimao. He tasted success on Portuguese soil in his championship year in World Supersport after qualifying on pole. And that slim chance he retains is down to his vast reserves of strength he showed here.
Arbolino’s late push
But for a random seat choice on a flight out of Le Mans, Tony Arbolino may well have found himself leading the Moto3 world championship. As it was, he was sat within three rows of a positive Covid-19 case. Italy’s track-and-trace system was put into effect. And, despite a series of negative tests, Arbolino was forced into isolation, putting him out of the first Aragon round.
All ifs and buts. Yet Arbolino refused to carry himself as a man that has faced the cruellest Covid-based misfortune in this strangest of years. He hasn’t quite been as fast as expected in 2020. He has regularly complained of a lack of rear grip when braking. And at times he was muscled out of major late brawls.
But at the Valencia Grand Prix, he built on the experience of the previous weekend. Raul Fernandez had bolted early for the second race in succession. This time Arbolino didn’t mistime his fightback. He caught and passed the early leader with the minimum of fuss and held his pace so as neither Fernandez or Sergio Garcia could get close on the final lap. “I was on the limit in every corner,” he said.
This first win of the season puts him within reach of Albert Arenas in the championship, after the Spaniard opted for a safe fourth. With Moto3 being the way it is, overturning an eleven-point deficit at an unknown track doesn’t seem an impossibility.
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