The Moto2 race at Aragon may have been more sedate than the MotoGP outing, it offered up a tremendous exhibition of grit, while Moto3 threw up a number of interesting talking points.
Fernandez on another level
The standout take from Raul Fernandez’s 2021 campaign isn’t the blinding speed, or the five wins, the first Moto2 rookie to achieve as many since Marc Marquez in 2011. It’s his reaction to any form of adversity. Just as he did at Assen in June, the 20-year old bounced back from a crash in the previous race with an imperious victory at Aragon with the biggest winning margin on the year (5.4 seconds).
But this one was the most special to date. Just nine days before, Fernandez broke the fifth metacarpal bone in his right hand in a near stationary bicycle accident at his home outside Madrid. The hand was operated on two days later, and he arrived in Aragon admitting the injury was “bad news for fighting for the title.”
But aside from a moment in FP1 when he seemed to tweak the injury during a moment on the kerbs, Fernandez’s handicap never looked apparent as he confidently took control of the race from Sam Lowes on lap four. From there he never looked back, and trimmed his deficit in the title race to 39 points. Even team-mate and championship leader Remy Gardner held his hands up after the race. “I have to say, man, Raul was on another level with his pace. I couldn’t match that. He’s doing an incredible job. He’s a tough opponent.”
Managing time on track over the weekend was key to this success. “We tried to not do too many laps. At the end the goal was completing the race. If I wanted to do a lot of laps on the first day, maybe it would make the hand worse. The strategy was try the bike, but not too much! It was really difficult to do it like this because at the end you prepare it depending on the hand … At the beginning of the weekend there was a lot of pain. I couldn’t do more than six laps. It was a really difficult race with this temperature. In Silverstone I crashed. A week later I was with Dr. Mir hospital and I didn’t know if I could come here or not.”
High temperatures lead to early chaos
Not only was the Moto2 affair processional; it was a race of attrition. Six riders crashed out in the opening five laps, with three more following later on. Two of those – Sam Lowes and Marco Bezzecchi – still harboured hopes of having a say in the championship. Track temperatures were high, as was humidity. Lowes, for one, felt the front tyre was “on the limit,” leading to the spate of falls.
“The conditions were just a bit different compared to the rest of the weekend,” said the Englishman, who fell out of second on lap 13. “Everyone was on the hard front because the soft in them conditions would have been difficult. The thing is the hard front is so good in braking but it’s still a hard tyre. When it just goes out of that window with the temperature, or even the humidity was changing quite a lot in the sessions we had over the weekend, it was on the limit.
“Even my crash. I was nearly 6 km/h slower than what I had been at that corner where I crashed over the weekend. I was just a bit on the gas. I was slowing the bike down more going in and then got on the gas sooner to get through the corner, and I lost the front. As a rider, you look through the corner and think you’re on the way out. It was strange. I think that’s why Dunlop is pushing to bring more options, so when it’s a hot track, a greasy track, maybe we’d have more margin. It was complicated, difficult and when everyone’s trying to get their heads around it, you can see a few mistakes.”
Podium finisher Augusto Fernandez added, “It was hard also to understand the track conditions. It was similar to the qualifying but we didn’t do so many laps and you didn’t know how much you could push, or the limits.”
Prior to the Aragon weekend, Augusto Fernandez was confirmed to switch to Aki Ajo’s Moto2 team in 2022. The three-time race winner said, “It’s a structure that, for many years, has been the benchmark in Moto2, winning races, fighting for world titles and achieving them.” It’s an interesting move, not least because the rider from the Balearic Islands is currently in a team that has also been the benchmark in the class, winning races, fighting for world titles, and achieving them.
While the result was largely positive, Aragon was slightly frustrating for the 23-year old. A race run in FP3 was formidable, and showed Augusto had the potential to, at the very least, give namesake Raul something to consider on Sunday. Yet a poor qualifying (twelfth) put paid to any hopes he had of a first victory in 24 months.
“This is the best podium of the season,” Fernandez said of his fourth third place of the year. And to give him his dues, this was an impressive ride. He dropped as low as 14th on lap one, so gaining eleven places in tricky conditions was a strong showing. “I had fights with Navarro and many other riders. I knew I had podium pace, but recovering so many places was difficult. I was just going one by one and focussing on the rider in front. I was able to arrive to the podium fight. I won it because I had better rear grip than Navarro at the end of the race, because I was careful with the rear tyre. It gave me a little extra over him.
But there can be no excuses next year. Fernandez has certainly recovered his old speed from the Spanish Grand Prix this year, but qualifying has let him down on occasion. Next year is his big chance. And to be fair, when Ajo and KTM’s Pit Beirer give you a call and ask you to join the ‘Red Bull KTM family’, you would really have to think twice.
Remember the name. Fermin Aldeguer first announced himself in this year’s MotoE class, taking a front row start at the first round at Jerez at the tender age of 16. From there, everything he has touched has turned to gold. The rider from Murcia shares the same physical trainer as Pedro Acosta, and it shows. He has been remarkably adaptable all year for one so young, winning the European Moto2 Championship at a canter aboard a Boscoscuro chassis, winning nine of the ten races.
That class still uses the Honda 600cc engines, so his twelfth place in his Grand Prix debut, deputising for the injured Yari Montella in the Speed Up squad at Mugello, where he had never previously raced, was all the more impressive. As MotoGP statistician Martin Raines pointed out, he became the youngest ever point scorer in the intermediate class at just 16 years and 55 days (taking the record off Chaz Davies). With the team believing Montella had still not fully recovered from the wrist injury suffered in May, Aldeguer was handed two more starts – in Silverstone and Aragon. He duly delivered, scoring a brilliant seventh place at his home track.
He’ll be one to watch when he makes his full-time Moto2 debut next year.
Aspar counts the cost
As brilliant as Pedro Acosta has been across his rookie Moto3 campaign, the 17-year old has also enjoyed his fair share of luck across the year. Sunday was a case in point. A first DNF of the season came after a careless crash that took out the excellent Xavi Artigas four laps from the flag, and handed Sergio Garcia – third at the time – a golden opportunity to trim his countryman’s 46-point advantage in the championship.
But Garcia suffered a similar fate, tucking the front at turn twelve on the final lap when chasing after Deniz Öncü and Dennis Foggia from third place. One reason for Garcia’s costly crash was the intense fight he was engaged in just before the fall. Team-mate Izan Guevara paid no attention to Garcia’s title chances, attempting passes at turns one, five and seven on the final lap, before being pushed wide. Some may say rightly so. Team orders can leave an unsavoury taste. But this was a pretty bad outcome, especially as Guevara appeared completely unaware of Garcia’s situation when interviewed by Spanish broadcaster DAZN after the race.
“There was no strategy or anything. Let each rider do his race and that's it,” he said. And had he seen Acosta crash out? “Yes, I knew because he fell in front of me.” Guevara has been exceptional in his past three outings, setting the fastest laps in each of them and finishing just 0.047 and 0.064 off the podium in the past two. But here, the Aspar team may well have been wondering whether letting their riders race each other was really the best idea.
Toprak training ‘inspiration’ for Öncü
It’s hard not to warm to Deniz Öncü. For the second time in three races, the young Turk was denied a first grand prix victory just two turns from the flag after he had led 13 of 19 laps. His parc fermé interview afterward, when he vowed this second place has made him “hungrier and angrier” to win, would have won him new fans. Later, I asked the 18-year old if being part of this exciting generation of fast Turkish riders, which includes Toprak Razgatlioglu, provided inspiration or pressure, he answered, “Not pressure!
“At home I’m training with Toprak. He’s the championship leader in (World) Superbike. He’s crazy in braking, doing stoppies and these kinds of things. As you remember in Czech Republic, (Scott) Redding was crying because of this. He’s really strong on the brakes and I’m looking to learn this from him. OK, Moto3 is not as fast but I’m also trying to brake late and it’s working. I can pass riders easily. Honestly, it’s extra motivation because when I see my friend is leading the championship, I (think) I can do the same here. I don’t have as many points, but after half of the season I make two podiums. So, yeah…”
Sasaki ‘relieved’ by podium comeback
Ayumu Sasaki faced his fair share of adversity over these past four months. The Japanese rider has not only had to overcome a heavy concussion, sustained in a scary last lap collision in Barcelona, that ruled him out of the German and Dutch Grand Prix. He was caught up in the horrible incident that claimed the life of Jason Dupasquier at Mugello. That isn’t an easy sequence of events to come to terms with, never mind overcome.
But Sasaki rode an inspired race at Aragon, showing the requisite aggression to pass Izan Guevara at turn eleven on the final lap, which was eventually enough for third place, his first podium of the year. Asked how he has dealt with this season’s events, the 20-year old revealed he was more relieved by his return to the podium for the first time in eleven months, rather than exalted.
“It wasn’t only my injury from Mugello. We also lost one of the great riders that we fight with. Many things happened at the beginning of the season. Everything was very difficult. But we stayed strong and came back here for third place. It has been the most difficult thing in my life. I’m not really happy about this podium; I’m more relieved. I just want to be proud that I kept strong and I came back to the podium.”
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