As ever Moto2 and Moto3 threw up a plenty of intrigue at the Austrian Grand Prix with two close races. Here, we dive into some of the more pressing matters in both classes.
Fernandez: this one's for the h8rs
It’s no secret motorcycle racers can take even the tiniest slight onboard and store it up for those dark days when motivation doesn’t come easy. For Raul Fernandez, his latest triumph was dedicated to those who had the temerity to cast doubt on his talents after a lousy showing the previous weekend. Well, lousy by his standards.
“I want to say thanks to my team, to my family, but especially to my haters, who one week ago said I would never get another podium,” he said from parc fermé. “Now I’m here again with a victory. This is for all of you.”
Raising his middle finger to the bad boys of the world wide web aside, this was yet another demonstration of Fernandez’s frightening ability. Seizing control of the Moto2 race on the third lap, he led a tense if processional encounter in which Ai Ogura, Augusto Fernandez and Sam Lowes all ran near identical times for the first 20 laps. “We were all lapping to the (same) tenth,” said Augusto of this encounter, after finishing third. “One tenth (off) and you could see you were losing something – crazy!”
Anyone doubting Raul’s merit for a MotoGP seat in 2022 need to consider two things: First, his consistency here. From laps three to 24, the penultimate of the 25, there was a variation of just two tenths of a second in Raul’s lap times. As namesake Augusto said, crazy. Second, how he resisted Ogura’s late push was coolness personified. Little wonder title contender Remy Gardner looked genuinely concerned after this one.
It was all a far cry from the previous weekend, when, as Fernandez admitted, KTM’s decision to announce his future during FP4 had come as a surprise. “I’m really happy to get the victory here because the last week was difficult for me,” he said. “(The previous) Sunday was really difficult. I couldn’t sleep that night, just 2 or 3 hours. It was really difficult but I came back stronger. Maybe it was (because of) the decision of KTM. It was a little surprising for me.
“This week, at the beginning, I started to understand they brought me this opportunity (so I can) continue on a good line in my career. In these few days I understood this. I said, OK, the future is clear. I had more focus on Moto2 and I will try to win. This was the mistake (before) and for this I changed the mentality.”
Raul’s representatives were in contact with Yamaha prior to the Styrian Grand Prix and Raul made a feeble attempt on Sunday to deny that was his preferred destination. But now with the issue of his future – which has run for three months – sorted, Fernandez regained focus to devastating effect.
Remy: A **** fight
Without question, this was the toughest weekend of Gardner’s season. A crash in qualifying left him fifth on the grid. And his hopes of fighting for the podium dispersed at the very first turn as Marcel Schrotter and Aron Canet pushed him wide and back to tenth. “Canet threw it up the inside, being a ****ing idiot,” Remy fumed. “You don’t win races in the first corner. Him and Marcel, trying to be heroes. If I didn’t pick up the bike, we would’ve all been on the ground.”
From there, Gardner struggled as his front tyre temperature rose. The best he could do was collect crucial points for seventh. But Fernandez’s win means the pressure is on. “I got pushed back in the group, it took three laps for the front tyre to get over 100 degrees, and the bike’s unrideable after that. There was nothing I could do. It was just a **** fight. Unfortunately, Raul got that win and closed the gap. But it could’ve been worse; we could’ve been on the floor.” For the first time all season, Gardner looked down. This was real proof Fernandez isn't going away.
Honda Team Asia on cloud nine
The exploits of Ai Ogura have been praised in this column as recently as last week. In the Austrian Grand Prix the stellar rookie was ably backed up by team-mate Somkiat Chantra with both men finishing inside the top five. What an advert for Dorna’s Asia Talent Cup, a feeder series in which both riders fought one another in 2016.
Ogura was sensational for a second week running in Austria, qualifying on the front row, and looking the man most likely to break Fernandez’s domination out front. Chantra, meanwhile, won out in an epic fight with Celestino Vietti, behind the leading quartet, after the Italian was penalised a position for exceeding track limits on the final lap.
“In the first half of the season it looked like I was quite close to the podium, but the gap was quite big for me. To start the second half like this is really nice. This double result speaks of the fine work conducted by team boss Hiroshi Aoyama and the squad. “The feeling of the team is really nice. We work and help each other,” Ogura said post-race. “Where I had some issues, I asked Chantra. And the other way (around) also. We improved and now we’re closer.”
Chantra felt his prowess around the Red Bull Ring stemmed from the track’s stop-start similarities to one that he knows intimately – the Chang International Circuit in Buriram. “The Red Bull Ring is so special for me, maybe because it is like Buriram. Long straights, with a lot of right corners in sectors one, 2 and 4. And with the heat of today, it was so like Thailand!"
Lüthi bows out
On Thursday Thomas Lüthi confirmed he will call time on a grand prix career that has stretched across 19 seasons. The Swiss rider will move to the PruestelGP team in 2022 for a role as Sporting Director with its Moto3 efforts. After a tough 2020, a move to the Pertamina Mandalika SAG team for this year failed to offer up an improvement in results (Lüthi sits 23rd in the championship). The complexion of this season was darkened when compatriot and protégé Jason Dupasquier was killed in May.
It’s been a quiet end to a mainstay in grand prix in the 21st century. He may have just one world title to his name (the 125cc crown in 2005). But some of the numbers Thomas Lüthi has racked up since his debut in 2003 suggest he isn’t given enough acclaim. Yes, that Moto2 title forever eluded him. But he twice came close in 2017 and 2019. Only three riders in history have more GP starts than his 310. And only the great Toni Mang (60) scored more podiums in the intermediate class than his 56. That’s more than Max Biaggi, Tetsuya Harada and a host of other greats from the class.
Add to that Lüthi was conducted himself professionally and intelligently and he will be missed.
On the one hand, Dennis Foggia’s third position in Sunday’s Moto3 outing was nothing short of exceptional. KTM’s superiority was clear for all to see, as its riders occupied five of the six places in the leading group. The Italian was the only Honda-mounted assailant capable of getting close. Indeed his stirring late move on Pedro Acosta, two corners from the flag, earned him a fifth podium of the year.
On the other, his podium deserves even higher praise. Tensions between the 20-year old and his Leopard team were heightened over the weekend with relations on the verge of breaking down. Foggia confirmed his dad’s paddock pass had been rescinded by the team ahead of the Austrian race, and hinted it was punishment for talking to other teams for 2022, even though he has an agreement to stay with the team next year.
“My dad (had to) stay out of the paddock, an unfair decision,” he told Sky Italia. “He was watching from the stands and I thought I had to put myself on the podium. I was very agitated. In these past days I didn’t sleep much, especially last night. Next year I want to move to Moto2, even if there are contracts and they say I have to stay. I don’t want to stay in this class and with this team, so I’ll try to make the move.”
Yet someone close to the team has privately asserted the decision to take away Foggia senior’s pass had nothing to do with the fact they were speaking to other teams; rather they feel his presence had a negative impact on their son’s performance, after he struggled to 22nd in the rain the week before. Either way, it appears to be the beginning of a sad end to a relationship that has led to Foggia’s rise as one of Moto3’s fastest names.
Rodrigo invites ire
One rider that didn’t cover himself in glory at the Austrian Grand Prix was Gabriel Rodrigo. The Argentinean was the cause of not one, but two accidents with other riders on Saturday with riding that didn’t exactly speak of a man who had his emotions fully in check. The first of those involved him riding into the side of Ryusei Yamanaka, with the Japanese rider suffering a fractured left humerus bone in the fall.
Rodrigo was handed a pit lane start for that. Then a Long Lap Penalty in the race for taking down Tatsuki Suzuki in qualifying. The day’s events caused even his crew chief Massimo Capanna great confusion. “Yesterday morning he made this accident on the first lap with Yamanaka. Really I don’t understand. There was no reason to do that, and I explained to him many times,” he told pitlane reporter Simon Crafar. “Yesterday afternoon he did the sane. I cannot explain because we don’t understand. I can apologise for him but nothing more because I’m not riding the bike. I hope he relaxes and takes away all his stress to be ready for the next race.”
His speed and talent is there for all to see. Perhaps news that the Gresini team is considering withdrawing its Moto3 effort for 2022 added to his stress.
The Austrian GP was notable for the sight of KTM’s Moto3 riders experimenting with a carbon rear wheel cover through much of Friday and Saturday’s sessions. In the race, most had it removed, with the exception of Deniz Öncü, who spent most of the race fighting up front, and team-mate Ayumu Sasaki, who crashed out early on after a touch with Darryn Binder.
Ducati had experimented with a part of this kind before in MotoGP with Michele Pirro but it has never been seen in a grand prix in the junior class. It’s believed that it offers up greater aerodynamic capabilities by reducing drag by negative turbulence caused by the spokes of the wheel. Therefore, it mildly helps with top speed even if it adds some weight to the overall package. Indeed, Öncü clocked the fastest speed of the race.
Riders Sergio Garcia and Deniz Öncü gave little away after the Moto3 race regarding the part. When asked why he didn’t use it, he joked, “It’s a thing my mechanics did and until now I didn’t know that I didn’t have this cover!” Öncü, still reeling from losing out on victory, turned monosyllabic. “Why not (use it)? If it didn’t work we wouldn’t put it. But KTM improved, we put and it’s working.”
Austria demonstrated KTM continues to innovate in a bid to eke out minor gains in a class designed for parity.
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