Moto2 in 2017 is set to be as fast and furious as ever before! With four of last season’s race winners moving up to MotoGP, there’s a huge hole to be filled in terms of talent. Rookies, veterans and young pretenders all combine to form what is a star-studded line up for the upcoming season and a real mix of nationalities too!
Franco Morbidelli and the Estrella Galicia Marc VDS Team must be firm favourites for the 2017 Moto2 championship. Despite having not won a race yet, Morbidelli took a stunning seven podiums in the last nine races last season, with five podiums in the final five. Aged just 22, Morbidelli has been in the sharp end of Moto2 for the last two seasons and will be hungry to put all that experience to good use. Alongside him in the team once more is Alex Marquez. The Spaniard has been rather lacklustre so far in his Moto2 career, with just one podium at Aragon last year. The 2014 Moto3 champion has been quick in testing and could make for an exciting on track dual with his teammate. The Marc VDS team had an in-team rivalry back in 2014, when Tito Rabat and Mika Kallio went head to head for the title.
Tom Luthi finished the Moto2 season 2nd last season, after starting his campaign off with a victory under floodlights at Losail. He went on to take three more victories and two further podiums but couldn’t overhaul Johann Zarco. One of his best wins last season was at Phillip Island, when he slipstreamed Franco Morbidelli to the line and pinched the win by only a few thousandths of a second. Wanting to go one step further, he could become the first Swiss rider in the history of the Motorcycle Grand Prix World Championship to win an intermediate class title. It won’t be easy but we know he’s quick. Alongside him this season, Jesko Raffin. The fellow Swiss joins Luthi to form a “Swiss Mafia” in the Interwetten Paddock CarXpert team. Raffin has impressed in testing and will want to improve on his best of 8th from last season’s German GP. The third rider in the team is young hot-shot Iker Lecuona, who came in late last season. Given a full-time ride for 2017, he suffered an enormous accident at the Valencia test and will miss the first race of the year (at least) and will be replaced by the recently retired and former 125cc champion, Julian Simon.
The Team Asia Idemitsu Kalex squad once again field Takaaki Nakagami. The Japanese rider took his first win last season at a red-flagged Dutch TT, holding off Johann Zarco as the Frenchman got closer to him. Looking for wins again this season, the 25-year-old comes off the back of a season where he finished 6th. ‘Taka’ always goes well at Jerez, so keep an eye on him there. His new teammate -somewhat surprisingly – is Khairul Idham Pawi. The double GP winner in Moto3 makes a very early step up to Moto2, staying in the same team. The Malaysian rider hasn’t been that much of a stand-out in testing but he has got the whole season to prove doubters – like me – wrong.
Forward Racing are back for 2017 with an unchanged line-up. San Marinese Grand Prix victor Lorenzo Baldassarri lines up alongside Valentino Rossi’s half-brother, Luca Marini. Both have shone in testing with Baldassarri potentially causing a bit of an upset in 2017. He’s quick and his experience of winning from last season will leave him seeking further success. Luca Marini is yet to break into the top five in a race yet, however two top-10 results last season (a best of 6th in Germany) show that he is quick and on his day, could be a great shout for a podium. It’s in his blood after all…
Graduating from Moto3 after taking victories last season, Jorge Navarro takes the place vacated by Sam Lowes at the Federal Oil Gresini Kalex team. Fausto Gresini was quick to snap him up last year and so far, Navarro has been a solid top-10 tester. The Moto2 rookie will take time to adapt – as has everyone else who’s moved up – but expect some good results from the off. He’s got the talent, the bike and the team to guide him in the right direction.
The Dynavolt Intact GP team field seasoned campaigner Sandro Cortese for the 5th consecutive season, partnering him with fellow German, Marcel Shrotter who will enjoy his 2nd season riding a Kalex. The team took a victory at Brno last year with MotoGP graduate Jonas Folger and will be looking to mount a serious challenge for the title with Sandro Cortese, who has so far failed to impress in Moto2. For Schrotter, the objective will be to hit the podium places by the end of the year, after taking 5th place at last year’s Austrian Grand Prix.
As well as new riders, there is also a new team in Moto2. The VR46 Riders Academy add two bikes to the Moto2 grid this year, with Moto3 race winner Francesco Bagnaia and Moto3 wild-boy and crowd pleaser, Stefano Manzi. Bagnaia has looked quick in testing and will want podiums in the season, whilst also wanting to take home the Moto2 ‘Rookie of the Year’ award. Stefano Manzi may seem a strange signing but being over 6 foot, he will need more than a Moto3 bike – which is similar to Lorenzo Baldassarri’s situation in 2013. After all, it’d be like a giraffe riding a grehound if he was to stay in the class for another season.
The Pons HP40 team have a new rider and a new livery in 2017, reverting to the 2013 look of blue and white instead of the yellow they have run for the past few seasons. Their new rider is non-other than former Moto3 podium finisher and double Junior World Moto3 Champion, Fabio Quartararo. He has proved he has pace in testing and will want to replicate what his fellow countryman Zarco was able to do last season. Whether that’ll be straight away will be left to be desired for now. Edgar Pons is alongside him this season. Edgar’s best finish last season was a mere 14th, so a top 10 will be an improvement.
The Italtrans team keep hold of Mattia Pasini, who did such a fine job last season. The veteran Italian took six top-10 positions on his way to 11th in the championship. He hasn’t had a podium since the 2009 San Marinese GP and his last victory was at the 2009 Italian GP. Pasini will surely correct at least one of them stats soon? Alongside him in 2017 will be Moto3 podium finisher, Andrea Locatelli. Equally as puzzling as Pawi’s move to Moto2, I feel Locatelli may have benefitted more from at least another season in the frantic Moto3 class. Testing has been somewhat mediocre but, like Pawi, adaptation time will be required.
Another new team join the Moto2 grid for 2017. This time, it’s reigning Moto3 champions KTM, who are starting to take Grand Prix racing a bit more serious.
Miguel Oliveira moves back to the team he left in 2015 and joins former teammate and reigning Moto3 rider’s champion, Brad Binder. Oliveira’s season in Moto2 has been helpful and that has shown throughout testing. The Portuguese rider’s best finish last season was an 8th but missed the final part of the year through injury. Brad Binder took seven victories on his way to his first world title last season. He hasn’t been as fast as Oliveira initially but the times will come for the South African. Binder will be looking to become the first South African since Kork Ballington at the Nurburgring in 1980 to take an intermediate class victory as he continues to re-write South Africa’s motorsport history whilst paving his own future.
The Kiefer Racing team move over from Kalex to Suter, not conforming to modern Moto2 fashion. Retaining 2015 Moto3 champion Danny Kent seems a good move; the Brit has been in fine form in pre-season testing and looked like the champion of old. A 6th place in the opening race of 2016 was his best result last year, showing that Danny must show us what he can do this season. Alongside him, former Moto2 winner, Dominique Aegerter. The Swiss rider comes back to his beloved Suter, of which he enjoyed a great season on back in 2014. The only downside to the team’s efforts is the wretched black and white livery they have. It really isn’t for me.
Tech 3 racing return to the championship for 2017, with Xavi Vierge and Remy Gardner. Remy comes in from the CEV Junior Moto2 championship, after doing well but often running into mechanical gremlins. He joined the world championship for some of last year on a Kalex, with a best of 12th. Vierge was something of a revelation in 2016, with a best of 8th place at Sepang. Last year’s rookie of the year will want to get his first podium for sure, to give the Tech 3 Moto2 team something to cheer about as well.
AGR reduce their output in Moto2 this season, from two riders to one. Yonny Hernandez goes to the team following his departure from the premier class. The Colombian’s extravagant style suited him when he was in Moto2 prior to the MotoGP class, with a best result of 6th place on a FTR bike. He boards the Kalex for the first time, knowing that he has to prove his worth in 2017.
Hafizh Syahrin remains in Moto2 and with the Petronas Kalex team. The Malaysian had some great rides last season, often battling away in the 2nd group of riders. 4th place on three occasions last year underlines the Malaysian’s potential and I’ll take odds on him finishing in the top five this season. There are rumours that he and the Petronas team will move up to the MotoGP category for 2018, although nothing is confirmed just yet.
The Speed Up team is all Italian this year as they expand their effort from a one rider garage to two. Simone Corsi retains his place in the team, with the hardcore Italian looking for his first podium since Le Mans last season. 10th overall proves that despite being an elder statesman of the Moto2 paddock, age is just a number. Axel Bassani joins him in the team, moving over from the European Supersport championship. The 17-year-old will make his debut after the Qatari GP.
Replacing Johann Zarco at Aki Ajo’s Moto2 Kalex team is Japanese rider, Tesuta Nagashima. The #45 rider moves back into Moto2 after having a year in the CEV Moto2 championship. Having been in the championship back in 2015 and sustaining injuries at Silevrstone, there is unfinished business for the 24-year-old to attend to.
Isaac Vinales moves into the SAG Racing Team, on a Kalex. His 2nd full season in the championship will hopefully be a better one for Maverick’s cousin, who achieved a 9th place last year at the German GP, on his way to 24th overall. The Spaniard will be looking for points in every race and may even be hoping for a top five placing here or there.
The last rider on the grid is Xavier Simeon. The former GP winner and Superstock 1000 champion is riding the Tasca Racing Kalex in 2017, moving over from the QMMF Speed Up operation. Whether he can return to winning ways is yet to be shown but he has been more competitive in testing than what he was for the majority of 2016, with a best of 8th at COTA before finishing 17th overall.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko