As the Moto2 World Championship arrives in Jerez for the first European round of the 2019 season, it is Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) who leads the title race.
Baldassarri was last year’s dominant victor of the Spanish Grand Prix, taking pole, the fastest lap and the race win. It was a stunning weekend for Baldassarri in Andalusia in 2018, much like the first two rounds of this season, Qatar and Argentina, which he won. Going into Texas, Baldassarri was unbeaten, but a poor qualifying left him in the middle of the pack at the start of the race, and a mistake from Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was enough to bring the #7 into the back wheel of the Spaniard, which ended the championship leader’s race. Baldassarri was able to maintain his championship lead ahead of the first European round, and will be keen to re-assert himself as the main challenger for the title this year at a round he was so convincing at twelve months ago.
In Baldassarri’s absence from the front, the Texan victory was taken by Tom Luthi (Dynavolt Intact GP), who was dominant in his return to the top step – somewhere he hadn’t been since Brno 2017. Luthi was strong in Texas and will be hoping for more of the same here, to continue his strong start to the championship, which has him third in the championship, only five points from Baldassarri.
Between Luthi and Baldassarri, second in the championship belongs at the moment to the man who should have won in Texas: Marcel Schrotter (Dynavolt Intact GP). The German was by far the fastest all weekend, at times having half a second on the field. But, once again, Schrotter was unable to put this into the race, and he was not as strong as his teammate. Nonetheless, as the European season gets underway there are only three points separating Schrotter from the top of the standings.
Aside from Baldassarri perhaps the most disappointed rider from COTA was Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) after a mechanical problem ended his race in the early stages. It was unfortunate for the South African, who is still without a podium in 2019. Chatter is still the major problem facing KTM at the moment with their Moto2 frame, and solving that, and solving it soon, will be the key to Binder’s title hopes.
A strong winter tests in Jerez means that Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) is in contention for the top places ahead of this weekend. Like the Qatar preseason tests, Lowes was strong in Andalusia, and will hope to repeat the achievement he managed in 2016, when he dominated the Spanish Grand Prix for Fausto Gresini’s Moto2 outfit in what was one of the strongest and most impressive performances of Lowes’ grand prix career.
Like Binder, though, Lowes is without a podium in 2019, and so is the third of the preseason championship favourites: Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46). Marini has spent the fly away races managing a shoulder which was still not fully recovered from surgery over the winter in Texas. Another three weeks will have helped heal the shoulder further for the #10, and he will be looking to do what he looked capable of in COTA before some gearbox issues, and take his first rostrum of the season.
One place ahead of Marini in the championship is Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) who has had a fairly average start to the season. A fall last year at turn two for Marquez ended his victory hopes, hopes that he fulfilled in 2017, a result that will be important to replicate for the Spaniard if he is to identify himself as a serious championship contender.
Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) took his first podium in Argentina, with a second place, but was unable to back that up in Texas. In part, this was down to a crash at turn ten in qualifying which left him towards the back of the grid at the race start. However, a perhaps bigger part of this poor result in America was down to Baldassarri’s crash with Martin, as Gardner had to go wide to avoid the bike of Baldassarri, costing him time which is unaffordable in the intermediate class of grand prix motorcycle racing. Gardner should be back this weekend, fighting for the victory – and at only twelve points deficit to Baldassarri the Australian is still well within championship contention.