The weekend’s excellent racing in the smaller classes at Mugello paled in significance to the passing of a rising star.
Jason Dupasquier 2001-2021
The racing world was rocked by news of the tragic passing of Jason Dupasquier at the Italian Grand Prix. The 19-year old paid a terrible price for the most minor of mistakes when chasing a fast time in the closing minutes of Moto3 qualifying. A sickening collision that involved Ayumu Sasaki and Jeremy Alcoba left him with serious head injuries, to which he eventually succumbed.
Confirmation of Dupasquier’s death came through a few minutes after noon on Sunday, just as the Moto2 grid was forming. The incident cast a huge shadow over race day, with several riders – Pecco Bagnaia and Danilo Petrucci included – stating they wished racing had been cancelled. A minute of silence was held just ten minutes before the MotoGP race start and each of the podium finishers dedicated their results to the fallen rider.
Any death is obviously tragic. But the fact Dupasquier was three months shy of his 20th birthday made it even more so. Hailing from Bulle in Switzerland, in some ways you could say Jason was destined to have an interest in two wheels. Father Philippe was former podium finisher in the 125cc Motocross World Championship as a privateer, and worked for KTM Switzerland for 20 years.
It didn’t take long before Jason set off on a similar path. He began his life on two wheels competing aboard Supermoto machines, picking up multiple national titles in his homeland. Soon he was honing his craft circuit racing, taking the ADAC NEC Championship Moto3 crown in 2016 and stepping up to the Junior Moto3 World Championship the following year.
A move to the Red Bull Rookies Cup – the series that has made countless stars – was slated for 2018. But a broken femur, sustained at the second round of that year’s Moto3 Junior World Championship, kept him out of the KTM junior cup for the rest of the season. Such a setback at a tender age can send a teenager off the path. Yet Jason showed the resolve to comeback from injury stronger, becoming a top ten regular in the 2019 Red Bull Rookies Cup as he finished eighth overall in a year in which he honed his skills against current Moto3 contemporaries Pedro Acosta, Carlos Tatay, Yuki Kunii and Lorenzo Fellon.
A move to the Moto3 World Championship with the CarXpert PruestelGP KTM squad the following year was just reward for his efforts. This was a team that had fought for the world championship just two years before, with Marco Bezzecchi at the helm. But even as countryman and Moto2 competitor Thomas Luthi took him under his wing and regularly offered up advice, Dupasquier struggled. Alongside team-mate Barry Baltus, himself a rookie, the team lacked a lead rider with experience, who could be depended upon for results. Neither rider scored a point, with Jason’s best result a 17th place at the French Grand Prix.
Rookie or not, Jason and his family knew another season like that would consign him to a future outside the grand prix paddock. He had to up his game, and physical preparation and training routine was addressed. At the behest of his team, dad Philippe and mum Andrea moved with him to southern Spain over the winter months. There, Jason spent his days training, alternating between different bikes.
At Le Mans, team manager Florian Pruestel told Dorna’s pit lane reporter Amy Reynolds, “Last year was a difficult year for us, a difficult season. Zero points. All the team were shocked about this. Jason has the potential (but) last season it wasn’t easy to know. We had to give him a second year. We were pushing a lot for him to do the winter training, and not do it always alone. He stayed in Spain all winter. It’s better to do it with other riders to see their potential. This made it come together to help him and bring him one step forward this season.”
This increased focus and work ethic immediately bore fruit. Jason scored his first world championship points in race one in Qatar with a fighting tenth place. He finished in the points in the next four races, too, with his excellent seventh place at Jerez the highpoint – a best result for a Swiss rider in grand prix’s junior category since 2010. A true indicator of his improvement was just how close he finished to the front. At the Qatar, Doha and Spanish GPs, Jason was just 2.2, 1.9sand 1.0 seconds behind the rider in P1. This consistency was shown in the World Championship standings, where he sat tenth prior to Mugello.
Sadly, his career was tragically cut short just as he was really coming into his own. But in his teenage years, Jason had shown sufficient resolve to overcome a variety of hurdles, including injury and inexperience. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that with another half season of experience and could have been fighting for podium finishes before too long. Along with team-mate Ryusei Yamanaka, Jason was among the most improved riders in the class of ’21.
His recent turnaround in results reminded Jack Miller of his own struggles to establish himself on the world stage when he arrived as a fresh-faced rookie in 2011. In an emotional debrief with the press on Sunday, the Australian noted “I see a lot of similarities with myself and Jason. Last year he was a little bit out of his depth. But he really started digging and working and this year we started seeing some great speed from him. But he was taken away from us far too early. It’s a great shame. A tragedy.”
I never knew Jason, but anyone of my colleagues that did spoke of a charming, smiley kid who was approachable in the extreme and had no airs or graces. A moving statement issued by the PruestelGP team on Monday described “an incredibly nice and funny guy, and a role model for many young talents. That is exactly how we want to remember him. A hard-working and respectful sportsman who made his Moto3 Championship dream come true. We can all be proud of the legacy Jason leaves behind despite his young age of only 19.”
There was enough in his short career to suggest the future was very bright indeed for Swiss racing. What a shame that now we won’t get the chance to see just how far he could go.
Gardner times it to perfection
Free practice suggested the Moto2 contest would be a showdown between Raul Fernandez and Sam Lowes, who qualified first and second. But Remy Gardner had a plan: hang in there for the early laps, manage the gap and ready himself for a late attack. “It was a really long race,” said the Australian after his first win of the season. “I just didn’t quite have the pace of Raul and Sam all weekend. But there was something in me giving confidence for the race. I stayed calm and preserved energy, because Mugello is a physical track. I could study Raul, planned my pass and made it happen.” With Miller and Gardner’s recent success, 2021 is marked out as the first time Australians won races in the premier class and intermediate class in the same season since Jack Findlay and John Dodds did so in 1973. And confirmation of a MotoGP contract with KTM for 2022 marks this out as an excellent week for the championship leader.
Roberts raging, Bezzecchi meek
It was hard to find anyone that didn’t feel sympathy for Joe Roberts. The American had fought off a late Marco Bezzecchi challenge for third place before the FIM Stewards intervened. A marginal trip over the track limits on the outside of turn five deprived him of a debut podium for his Italtrans Racing team. Even Bezzecchi meekly accepted third place. “I couldn’t find the way to ride smooth and the bike wasn’t following what I wanted to do,” he explained of a disappointing home GP. “Then I started also blistering the tyre. It wasn’t my best day. But at the end I was a bit lucky. It’s a shame for Joe because it was a good battle. These are the rules. Just sorry for him because he deserved this podium as much as I did. We have to take what we did.”
Foggia finds his feet
When Dennis Foggia’s bad, he’s awful. But when on song, he’s a world beater. A look at recent results proves as much: DNF, 17th, 2nd, DNF, 18th was how his Moto3 scorecard read coming into his home GP. But from Friday it was clear the Italian would be in the running. Not only was he consistent when running alone; his bike – the Leopard Honda – was among the fastest in a straight line, especially in a straight line. The 20-year old had led eleven of the race’s 20 laps prior to the final one, when he entered turn one. From San Donato he couldn’t be caught, even in Jaume Masia got close (Foggia’s winning margin was 0.036s). “My goal was to win. I know that my bike was so fast with the slipstream,” he said in the aftermath. Performances like this one make you wonder why Foggia cannot perform on a more consistent basis. And until he starts doing so, it’s hard to see him living up to the expectations of team boss Christian Lundberg, mastermind of two of the previous five Moto3 title fights.
Masia back on track
These past months can’t have been easy for Jaume Masia. The preseason favourite has failed to maintain his cool in certain last lap fights (Doha, Portimao), and faced his fair share of misfortune (Jerez). And all while his team-mate Pedro Acosta – three years his junior – has broken all kinds of record for a rookie. His mission at Mugello was further complicated by his crash out of the French Grand Prix, which broke the scaphoid in his right wrist. The Spaniard underwent surgery prior to Mugello. His late attack, which resulted in second, was extremely impressive in the circumstances. “In the last races I didn’t have the reward I was expecting, or working for,” he explained. “We were really unlucky in these races. But anyway, we kept working. My last week wasn’t a normal week. Thanks for Dr Mir for helping me and giving me the opportunity to be here. Today this race was really difficult with the slipstreams. I managed it well and finished on the podium. This gives me a good energy for the next races.”
Sasaki works wonders
People deal with tragedy in different ways. Ayumu Sasaki dealt with the weekend’s events by putting on his leathers and helmet before riding to a brilliant fourth place. That it came 21 hours after the sickening crash which launched him in the air and badly bruised his right foot, made this performance all the more remarkable. “I couldn’t avoid him (Jason) yesterday, it was a racing accident,” read Sasaki’s comments in Tech 3’s official release. “But I still feel bad. Last night was difficult, as I was in pain, but I also saw the crash a few times and it was hurting me a lot.” This was no surprise. Sasaki has quickly become one of Moto3’s more consistent performers. And Mugello was proof that he can perform in even the most trying of circumstances.
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