As a tyre manufacturer that supplies rubber for a Grand Prix category, one of the main priorities entering a race weekend is avoid any possibility of leaving with egg on your face. While producing excellent tyres that work in a variety of conditions and temperatures, Dunlop, the supplier of Moto2 and Moto3 rubber, is known to err on the side of caution, making sure the tyres in its allocation (both softer and harder options) can do a full race distance without any issues.
At the San Marino Grand Prix, all 29 Moto2 riders chose Dunlop’s softer option for the race. Asked if he was confident it would go race distance without any drop off, Gary Purdy joked, “It could do two race distances!” Therefore, the English factory decided to introduce a softer rear compound for the following week’s race at the Emilia-Romagna GP.
Rather than knowing the tyre choice from Friday morning, riders were tasked with assessing two compounds (one was the race tyre from the San Marino GP, then a softer compound still) for suitability over 27 laps. There was a real variety in tyre strategy in qualifying. “It’s fantastic,” Purdy said. “Teams are coming to me and asking what they should do (on race day). These back-to-back races have given us a great opportunity to mix it up a bit.”
Still, many felt the softer rear would have too big a drop off to be a viable choice in the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. That was until the rain arrived, forced a red flag and a restart held over just ten laps. Crucially names like Enea Bastianini, Marco Bezzecchi and Sam Lowes – previously favouring the harder option rear – switched to the soft, while pole sitter Luca Marini stuck with the hard.
Bastianini started with maximum aggression, pushing Marini off line at turn four and haring off into the distance. “The soft rear was good for the rear grip. But the front was pushing a lot and it was hard to brake hard,” he said after winning his third race of the year. Luckily for him Bezzecchi was also suffering from the front pushing once he moved through to second.
Coming home in a disappointing fourth, Marini was moved to defend his choice. “I want to defend the choice of the hard tyre,” he said. “For my riding style and the work done over the weekend. From a race point of view, I have always ridden with that compound and the bike was set on that type of tyre. The soft, for ten laps, was not as performing as in qualifying.”
As witnessed in MotoGP since Michelin’s arrival, having at least two possible tyre choices for Sunday is a good thing for the spectacle. More of the same please, Dunlop.
Having watched Friday’s free practice sessions, it was tempting to conclude it would be best if Luca Marini’s rivals stayed at home. His race runs in FP2 were formidable. “When they find out he was using the hard rear, they’ll all s**t their pants,” was how one paddock technician described his speed.
But a combination of conditions, tyre choice and aggressive riding from his rivals ended his chances of victory. “I had a good start on second start too, but at turn 4, Bastianini made a really aggressive entry,” said the Italian of his start. “I was already in the dirtiest line and I had to raise the bike to avoid the crash.” From there he struggled to find his rhythm and then came out second best in an all-action scrap with Sam Lowes on lap four.
Each of his five race wins in Moto2 have come from starting well and dictating the pace from the front. This was possibly a glimpse of a weaknesses. As the fight for the 2020 Moto2 World Championship intensifies, rivals Bastianini (five points behind) and Bezzecchi (20 points back) will no doubt have taken note.
Dixon Giving Team Headaches
If paddock mutterings are to be believed, Jake Dixon was told in no uncertain terms of the significance of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix by a senior member of his team last Thursday. Essentially the Englishman was told he would be riding for his job during the second Misano bout.
That considered, Dixon upped his game significantly. In the first Misano outing he was at a loss to explain the lack of rear grip at the start of the race as he struggled to 16th. But here he was regularly in the top positions in free practice. He produced his best qualifying performance in Moto2 to place seventh. And on Sunday he fought at the front in the first start. In the restart he fell back to twelfth before riding through a group to place sixth.
“It was incredible to be at the front during the first race, being in third position at one point,” he said afterward. “I’m just learning so much and week by week getting stronger. In the second one I made such a good start, got settled in to my rhythm and had a few battles with Sam [Lowes]. I made two massive mistakes and dropped back to 12th. I calmed myself down and slowly started to make my way forward again, to finally take sixth. I’m super happy with that and I can’t thank the team enough. It’s amazing to think of the progress made in such a short amount of time, since that Jerez test.”
Bear in mind, many of Dixon’s rivals have extensive experience of riding at Misano in Red Bull Rookies, Moto3 and years in Moto2. This was just his third weekend at the tight, tricky, technical layout. Teammate Xavi Vierge has already renewed to stay in Petronas Sprinta colours for 2021. With John McPhee in the running for the second Moto2 seat, Dixon’s recent performance has given team bosses real food for thought.
Depending on how you view the controversial Romano Fenati, this was either a tale of redemption or a reminder of what could have been for one of the paddock’s great wasted talents. Two years ago, he left this round with his career in tatters thanks to a rush of blood to the head which led him to grab a rival’s front brake midway through a Moto2 bout.
His racing licence was suspended for three months. But Fenati was granted a place on the Moto3 grid for 2019 and since then the 24-year old has only occasionally reminded us of his gifts. This was one of those rare occasions as he took full advantage of Celestino Vietti and Jaume Masia’s last lap coming together to hit the front and claim a first Grand Prix win in 13 months.
Afterward Fenati was keen to talk down that afternoon at this track in 2018. “For sure I change a lot (since then),” was all he was willing to offer up. “But Misano is always a big emotion!”
Instead he spoke of the set-up changes which allowed him to get stuck into the fight. “Before we were losing too much there and I couldn’t overtake,” he said. “Now the confidence with the front has improved. In the braking I was really confident. Also the weekend before. In the first race I had some problems with the clutch. I was behind the group and it was too difficult to overtake. The feeling improved for the second race. The start was good and we were always at the front.”
This was Fenati’s 12th Moto3 win, making him the most successful ever rider in the class. Husqvarna – essentially a rebranded KTM – claimed its maiden victory in Grand Prix racing. In recent years he’s battled motivation issues and those close to him say how he is over the shenanigans regularly seen in Moto3. “I try to go to Moto2 next year if it’s possible, if there is a bike,” he said on Sunday.
But the numbers don’t lie. When the setting and his head are right, Fenati is a true force in this class.
Race Direction Clamp Down Further
Those pesky Moto3 teenagers. Will they ever listen? Race Direction and the FIM Stewards found a new means of penalising them after some daft antics during the San Marino Grand Prix.
An incredible 25 of them were judged to have been riding in an irresponsible manner towards the end of FP3 the previous weekend. The FIM Stewards had a novel way of punishing the names involved in this thing on a more regular basis.
Nine of the 25 riders penalised were first time offenders. They were forced to sit out the first ten minutes of FP1. Twelve were second time offenders so their punishment was stronger: they had to sit out the first 15 minutes of FP2.
And then there were Tony Arbolino, Dennis Foggia, Jaume Masia, Davide Pizzoli and Ryusei Yamanaka: third time offenders. To find a punishment in line with their repeated transgressions, they were forced to sit out the final 15 minutes of FP3, a crucial time in determining who will make it into the Q2 session that afternoon.
Both Arbolino and Yamanaka were hit hardest, having lap times chalked off after not entering pit lane in time. Race Direction is getting serious on riders touring and these stronger penalties are a step in the right direction.
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