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As always Moto2/3 delivered plenty of talking points at the Andalusian Grand Prix. Sunday’s results threw up a host of surprises and blew both championships wide open. Here, we take a look through some of the big talking points from both classes.
Bestia’s bolt from the blue
Few gave Enea Bastianini a hope in a hell at the beginning of Sunday’s 23-lap Moto2 race. The Italian had caught everyone off guard by qualifying third. But free practice showings (17th in FP1, 8th in FP2, 16th in FP3) didn’t point to the Italian coming up with a solution to stop the Sky Racing VR46 team-mates over race distance.
But what do we know? The 23-year old got the holeshot, led every lap and coolly resisted Luca Marini’s midrace advances to collect his maiden Moto2 triumph. From ninth place, 19 seconds off the winner a week before, ‘La Bestia’ trimmed a colossal 18 seconds off his race time from Jerez 1 to 2. The secret, he said, was returning his base setting to what he used at race one in Qatar, where he finished third.
“Last week I was out of it,” he explained. “I modified the bike a lot. After I didn’t keep a good strategy to go fast in the race. This week I did a restart. I didn’t modify anything on the bike. It was really similar to Qatar. I changed my style on the bike. This was the key of the race. The team worked a lot to adjust the set-up after FP1.”
Qualifying and the early parts of races have always been a weakness. But Bastianini used testing over the winter to work on this. He also overcame the physical issues that lingered after the smash in last August’s Austrian Grand Prix, which broke his right foot in two places and left some mental scarring that took some time to overcome.
There wasn’t even a trace of that here. “We can do all the races on the podium,” he said on Sunday, having climbed to second in the standings. On the basis of this performance, who are we to argue?
Heat strings out Moto2
Conditions were so hot last Sunday, a number of MotoGP riders described the Andalusian Grand Prix as the most difficult race of their life. “It was like normal Jerez, but on steroids,” was Franco Morbidelli’s assessment. It may have kicked off an hour and 40 minutes before but Moto2 was just a shade cooler. Track temperatures were a mere 53 degrees compared to the 59 experienced in MotoGP.
The heat was such RW Racing NTS’s Jesko Raffin couldn’t start the race because of heatstroke. It was that bad. And it affected the racing, notably at the front with fairly pronounced gaps separating the top seven, (bar Marco Bezzecchi and Sam Lowes disputing third). Marini got to within 0.2s of Bastianini on laps twelve and 13, but, as he explained, conditions didn’t lend themselves to following the leader closely.
“I think there were two or three degrees more (than last weekend’s race),” he said after collecting a safe second place. “It affected the track and tyres a bit. But we were more prepared. The main problem with this temperature was staying in the slipstream. When you are close to another rider the bike gets hotter and it’s very difficult to manage. You can feel the heat in the body, in the hands and the front tyre struggles a lot when the pressure goes up.” Still, first and second place at Jerez pushed Marini into the middle of the title fight.
VR46 Academy celebrations need work
It provides training facilities, bikes to ride on and dietary advice. Its professional arm extends to language lessons, track days at Grand Prix venues and sit downs with a nine-time world champion. ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia once described it as “the island of Peter Pan.”
Yet for all the advice dished out on riding technique, work ethic and pre-race approach, the VR46 Academy still has some way to go in relaying the secrets of Valentino Rossi’s post-race celebrations. That much was obvious when Sky Racing VR46’s Celestino Vietti smashed a champagne bottle on the Moto3 podium when trying to open it, making a mess of his right hand. The cut necessitated a hasty trip to the medical centre, where doctors administered 22 stitches.
It didn’t end there. The team’s Moto2 riders Marini and Bezzecchi ended in the gravel after falling embarrassingly on the slow down lap after losing balance when shaking hands. Thankfully the boss saw the funny side. “When I see the two bikes of my team in the gravel after the flag I say, ‘this cannot be true!,’” Rossi said. “The stitches for Celestino… A disaster! In the Moto2 parc fermé I say to my brother (Marini) and to Bez, ‘Keep attention on the podium now. Don’t make any other disasters. I’ve had enough!”
A word of advice for the Academy. Stick on the MotoGP slow down lap after analysing Moto2/3 in detail and watch Rossi’s spontaneous waving at the empty grandstands. That’s how it’s really done.
Suzuki finds his aggression
Paolo Simoncelli, father of the late Marco and team boss of SIC58 Squadra Corse Honda, doesn’t mince his words. Having watched his Moto3 riders Tatsuki Suzuki and Nicolo Antonelli struggle to eighth and ninth place in the Spanish Grand Prix, he had a stern assessment of their performance: they rode an “embarrassing and inconceivable beginners’ race.” Ouch.
That statement was still ringing out in Suzuki’s ears one week on. The 22-year old acknowledged he was riding nervously and within himself at the Spanish Grand Prix. Thus he spent free practice working on his aggression when cutting laps alone. So much so, his pole position – his third on the bounce, the first time a Japanese rider has done so in any Grand Prix category since 2001 – took him by surprise.
There was no such repeat the second time around, as he led each of the 23 laps bar one and defended admirably from a late attack from John McPhee. Suzuki shares a close relationship with his team boss and they shared some emotional words in parc fermé post-race. “He (Paolo) told me I must believe in myself more,” Suzuki revealed. “I don’t do this enough. Sometimes I do a stupid crash or make a mistake. Last week he kicked my ass and I said, ‘I must do ****ing better!’”
Suzuki’s win was the first at Jerez for a rider starting the lightweight race from pole position since – you’ve guessed it – Marco Simoncelli in 2005. This team goes big on racing romance. And Paolo’s words did the trick.
A more mature McPhee
If there was one positive John McPhee could take from crashing out of a race he had the pace to win at the final turn, it was that his intentions were rooted in the right place. “Everyone could see that he’s here to win,” said Team Director Johan Stigefelt after the Spanish Grand Prix. “For me, this is such an important thing that John thinks like this.”
The rider was sure he hadn’t done much wrong. “After watching back the race from last weekend ap many, many times I feel my move in the last corner was a good one. I made the corner, stopped and turned the bike. I was just unlucky on the exit. This aggression is something you need in Moto3 and it’s something I’m applying a lot more.”
There were signs of that at the Andalusian Grand Prix as he stealthily rose through the leading group, taking third then second on laps 20 and 21 of 22. He decided against risking it all at the final turn this time around. “I had déjà vu on the last lap. I was there, ready, on the inside, waiting for a mistake from Tatsu.” It didn’t come, but thanks to championship leader Albert Arenas’ massive crash, McPhee’s second place thrust him back into the title fight. The Scot is riding better than ever, just 10 points off the championship summit.
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