As it should be, what was probably the last Portuguese Grand Prix for the foreseeable future left no one indifferent. Torrential storms became almost a tradition at Estoril, so nobody expected this edition to be any different after seeing clouds quickly come and go over the track from Thursday to Sunday. It would hardly have been a surprise to feel the rain start to fall at any given moment of the weekend, but thankfully, it held off.
Media attention was focused since early Thursday on rumours of Casey Stoner’s retirement published by Spanish magazine Solo Moto a few days earlier, but that turned out to be much ado about nothing, even more so after Stoner’s magnificent victory on Sunday against Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa.
But leaving aside MotoGP, with its high tech prototype bikes, and riders so close to perfection that it is almost impossible to overtake, the Moto2 and Moto3 classes gave the real action at Estoril with two thrilling races decided in the last few corners.
Waiting for Le Mans
Round four at the hard braking –or heart breaking - track of Le Mans for the French Grand Prix this weekend will see a new chapter added to the 2012 volume of the toughest Moto2 fights, featuring Marc Marquez, Thomas Luthi, Pol Espargaró and Andrea Iannone, the fastest men right now in Moto2.
As expected, Marquez is back again at the front after a worrying preseason with no time spent riding. The Spaniard is, without a shadow of a doubt, the hottest contender for Moto2 crown, but he will not be alone on his way to victory either. Thomas Luthi looks one of the most consistent riders behind Marquez. Marquez left Luthi without a chance at Qatar, with the hard outbraking maneuver on the last lap at Losail, and the Swiss rider also lost any hope of victory in the wet last few laps of the Spanish GP at Jerez. At Estoril, Luthi could not chase Marquez and Espargaro at Estoril in the final laps of Portuguese Grand Prix as his rear tire went off. But he was still on the rostrum in every race.
Pol Espargaro started this season after a tough experience last year as a rookie in the intermediate class, forced to witness how at the same time, his 125 arch rival Marquez was close to glory in similar conditions as him. But he now has the confidence and experience to also be battling for wins in Moto2, helped in no small part by the Pons Racing squad, one of the most successful 500 and MotoGP satellite teams of all time. Espargaro and Marquez’s duel at Estoril was a revival of their old 125 deadly rivalry. They both sounded pleased and happy about that fight when the pair were interviewed by Spanish journo Alberto Gomez on the evening after Portuguese Grand Prix for a radio broadcast, but make no mistake: Marquez did not complain of Espagaro’s risky move at Estoril's chicane, because he was showing the very same behaviour just a few corners before on the same last lap. It’s also nice to see the Pons Racing team fighting for victory again after years of absence, but this could not be the only surprise from the Spanish team this season. Espargaro’s team mate Tito Rabat looks like a strong storm waiting to happen, and it could take only a few races for his talent to come out.
It’s also fascinating to see how the 2012 season is turning out so differently for the last ever 125 world champion Nico Terol and the rival he defeated for the title, Johan Zarco. Terol is just not having fun yet on a Moto2 bike, such a totally different four-stroke machine to the 125 – sometimes he has no confidence in the front end of his Suter - while his French rival Zarco seems to fit perfectly in this class. He fought for a rostrum place at Estoril and his debut in Moto2 has been much better than even Marquez’s in 2011. He may not be close to victory yet, but he will for sure get there before Terol, and this weekend a home race for Zarco at Le Mans could be a great moment to show what he is made of.
On the other side of Terol’s garage, backed by the insurance company MAPFRE, we also find Spaniard Toni Elias, returning in 2012 to the class that gave me him his only world championship title in 2010. Everyone knows that Elias is capable of great things, especially under pressure, but the Moto2 class he left in 2010 to ride a MotoGP bike again in 2011 was quite different to the series he finds himself in in 2012. Moto2 was a new class back in 2010 and nobody knew what to expect from it. A grid filled with 41 new prototype motorcycles with identical engines was unknown territory. And also, for many of the riders, four strokes engines were something new in their racing careers, with some finding it very hard to adapt to heavier weights and different engine and clutch response. Elias was the most experienced rider on the grid then, while today there already are true Moto2 specialists. Not two or three, but more than ten.
Andrea Iannone is once more one of the fastest riders. He can fight for victory at any track at any moment, but the most murderous Moto2 rider does not seem to be as consistent as he needs to be if he is to remain a championship contender. And so Marc Márquez appears to have the magical talent and Espargaro the fighting spirit. Both riders have won at Le Mans in the past and Luthi may be waiting for the right moment – though he had best not take too long. Meanwhile Zarco could finally get the breakthrough that he knows is coming in front of his home crowd. You had better not miss the Moto2 race at the French Grand Prix this weekend!