The Losail International Circuit plays host to the first round of the 2019 Moto2 World Championship this weekend.
After three days of testing for the Moto2 field last weekend, Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) has emerged as the favourite for the win – dominating the three days and ending 0.2 seconds clear of the field. With two difficult years it seems Lowes is ready to return to the front with the team in which he made his most successful season in Grand Prix racing back in 2016. The Brit has always been competitive in Qatar, even in his Grand Prix debut in 2014. Where he finished inside the top ten with the Speed Up team, and it seems as though this year could be his best opportunity to finally take the win in Qatar – a win which would somewhat fittingly see, a British rider win the first race of the Triumph-powered era of Moto2.
From the test it seems that Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) could be Lowes’ closest challenger for the season opener, the Australian finishing third in the combined times of the test, and showing a good rhythm. Back on a Kalex for 2019, Gardner looks set for what could possibly be his best season in the Moto2 World Championship – a podium to open the year would be a good way to start that for the #87.
Between Lowes and Gardner in the Qatar test on the combined times was Tom Luthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) who returns to the intermediate class after a year with the Marc VDS team in MotoGP. Interestingly, this will be Luthi’s first season in Moto2 outside of the Interwetten team with whom he enjoyed so much success previously. He has, though, joined a very strong team in the Dynavolt outfit, who has won races in the past with Jonas Folger, and scored many podiums last season with Xavi Vierge and Marcel Schrotter.
Vierge, who has now joined the EG 0,0 Marc VDS squad is certainly a dark horse for the championship after some strong performances last season for Dynavolt. He looked strong in testing too, and goes to Qatar with hopes of a podium, no doubt.
The same could be said for his EG 0,0 Marc VDS teammate, Alex Marquez, who ended the three days in Qatar just under a tenth behind Vierge and has looked strong throughout preseason. The critical thing for Marquez this season is to stop crashing. Hitting the deck last year cost him the championship – it cost him points and cost him his confidence. The regulation change for Moto2 this season could provide the mental refreshment necessary for the Spaniard to make an assault for the championship.
But, aside from Lowes, the championship favourites are almost universally agreed to be Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo). Both were over half a second off Lowes’ time in the Qatar test, but have also looked strong since preseason testing resumed after the winter ban.
Interestingly, neither one of the three main championship contenders have achieved a victory in Qatar and, as such, there is a good possibility for the likes of Vierge, Luthi and Marquez to take an early advantage. As well as those three, Lorenzo Baldassarri and his Flexbox HP40 Pons teammate Augusto Fernandez could be in the battle this weekend, although Baldassarri was not particularly spectacular in testing at the weekend. Fernandez, on the other hand, was fourth fastest at the end of the three days, only three tenths off Lowes.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this weekend, though, as far as the intermediate class is concerned is the beginning of a new era. The powerless, screaming Honda CBR600RR engines will have officially been replaced on Friday by the torquey Triumph 765 three-cylinder motor. As well as change in sound, these engines have also produced changes in riding style. The torque of the new engine means that corner speed is not as vital as before to lap time; now it is possible to square corners off and still make lap times. This should result in better racing, as riders can send more risky passes knowing they aren’t going to be so slow on the straight as a result. On Sunday we will find out if this is the reality.
Featured Image courtesy of Gold & Goose/Red Bull Content Pool