After two straight wins for Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40), the Moto2 World Championship heads back to the Americas for round three of the 2019 season, at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas.
Unfortunately for Baldassarri, COTA has been one of his worst tracks in Moto2. He crashed in his first Moto2 outing at the Austin circuit in 2014; finished twenty-sixth and second-last in 2015; in 2016 he was second-last and twenty-third; he crashed again in 2017; and last year he took his best result in Texas, with a tenth place. This weekend could prove to be a big damage limitation job for the championship leader, but his form in the first two races would suggest he is up to that task.
Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) has a last name with mixed connotations. Of course, there are benefits to being the younger brother of a seven-times motorcycle Grand Prix World Champion, but the name also brings with it a lot of expectation and pressure, the justification of which is subjective. Arguably, the Marquez name brings the most pressure in Texas, where older brother Marc has never been beaten, and won his first MotoGP race back in 2013. Alex Marquez looked the nailed on winner ahead of last year’s race, before tyre woes in the latter stages saw him finish second to eventual series winner, Francesco Bagnaia. Marquez currently sits sixth in the championship, twenty-five points behind double-winner Baldassarri, after going 7-3 in the first two rounds of the season. With Baldassarri seeming destined to struggle this weekend, the Grand Prix of the Americas could be the chance Marquez needs to announce himself as a championship contender.
However, it will not just be Marquez who will be looking to break Baldassarri’s 100% record this weekend.
Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) has been one of the surprise packages of 2019 so far, just missing out on his debut podium in Qatar, before finally achieving it last time out in Argentina. He looked to be able to win in Termas, but when Baldassarri made his move on the Aussie, he was forced wide, and after that the Italian was able to extend the gap. Such a strong start to the season makes Gardner an outside championship contender at this stage, and he will look to confirm that this weekend.
Contrarily, almost, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) and Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) – who were probably the three outstanding championship favourites coming into this season – will be looking to establish themselves in this, the third round of the championship.
Brad Binder was given a one-place penalty in Argentina for irresponsible riding. The penalty was probably fair, as many of the moves Binder put on his rivals, especially in the closing stages of the race, were past the limit. The penalty meant he finished sixth which, combined with a difficult Qatar, means the South African lies seventh in the championship, thirty-six points off Baldassarri.
Sam Lowes had an even more disappointing time in Argentina, crashing out early on. He now sits eleventh and forty points off Baldassarri in the championship. Fortunately for Lowes, he has good memories of Texas, as it is where he took, in fine style, his first Grand Prix win back in 2015 on the Speed Up, a result he will be hoping to match this weekend as he looks to recover points to the championship leaders.
Luca Marini lies just ahead of Binder in the championship, by three points. The Italian has been recovering from a shoulder surgery from last year in the first part of this year. Whether the fitness of the Italian will be improved this weekend is unsure, but the physicality of COTA means that it will be important for Marini to be in a good condition for this weekend, if he is to make a good result.
What is for certain is that Marini’s Sky Racing Team VR46 teammate, Nicolo Bulega, will not be in COTA at all, due to his physical condition. Bulega pulled out of the Argentina race because of arm pump, and surgery this week will see him miss round three of the series, in the hopes of being close to full fitness in Jerez at the beginning of May.
Bulega is not the only Moto2 rider absent this weekend, as Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) is out after his monster crash in free practice two weeks ago. The Spaniard will be replaced for the American round of the World Championship by Mattia Pasini.
Image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM