Back-to-back victories for El Diablo

Controversy reigned in qualifying:

Local boy Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM – 88), took a tumble during the qualifying, which caused the yellow flags to be waved. During this time Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati – 63) was on his fastest lap and had also taken the lap record but it was taken away from him due to Oliveira’s accident, although the yellow flag was out of his peripheral vision at the time, rules state that his lap be removed.

Bagnaia was not the only rider to be unhappy with the qualifying results. Maverick Vinales (Yamaha -12) started in 12th, one position behind Bagnaia. Due to exceeding track limits by having both tyres on the green, although this was only by mere millimetres.

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda – 93), returned this weekend after his explosive crash in July at the start of the 2020 season. He seemed to take a tow from Alex Rins (Suzuki – 42) which gave Marquez a brief third place on the grid. But, his time was not enough to keep him there and he started in 6th place.

Courtesy of: MotoGP website

Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha – 20) – took pole, from Alex Rins (Suzuki – 42) and Johann Zarco (Pramac Ducati – 5) who took up the front row. A surprise 8th place for Luca Marini (Sky VR46 10) with reigning Champion Joan Mir (Suzuki – 36) in 9th and regardless of his crash Oliveira rounded up 10th place.

Rookie Jorge Martin had a massive crash which unfortunately resulted in him not being able to race on Sunday.

Portuguese Moto GP race:

Portimao, with it’s undulating bends and tight corners proved to be the place for Frenchman Quartararo to take back-to-back victories, in the third round of the championship.

Courtesy of: MCNews.com

Starting from pole, it seemed it was going to be a straight-forward race for Fabio, but he immediately went backwards to 5th place. Letting Zarco claim 1st into the first corner, leading from Rins and astonishingly Marc Marquez progressed to 3rd place. Mir also went up 6 places from the grid as did Brad Binder gaining 9th place for KTM.

With track temperatures now at 41 degrees the next 25 laps were sure to be sensational.

Quartararo was quick to put in a fastest lap, hoping to gain places back as soon as possible, taking 4th place from Miller. Only to have the fastest lap soon to be taken by Aleix Espargaro on lap three.

Courtesy of: MotoGP website

The battle was heating up already, with riders trying to gain ground with Quartararo soon taking 3rd place on lap 4 and Rins who was hot on the heels of leader Zarco. The Suzuki rider soon secured 1st place but the Ducati power proved too much and on the straight it was taken back.

Lap five saw a mechanical failure for Pol Espargaro (Honda – 41) and sadly he made an early retirement from the race. Rins once again battled for first place, this time brakes won over power and he was able to hold onto it, while Quartararo took 2nd.

Braking too hard however, caused Miller to crash out of the race on turn 3, lap 6.

Sadly for local boy Oliveira turn 14 also saw him crash out on lap 7, but he managed to get back on the bike to finish the race in 16th place.

Hard rear tyres seemed to be the right call for the riders as Bagnaia passed Marquez for 8th place, making his way through the pack and Quartararo was hunting down Rins for 1st. Unfortunately, Yamaha rider Vinales could not do the same and was outside the top 15.

Into the first corner of lap 9, Fabio decided to take 1st place and pushed hard to break-away from Rins. Getting faster and faster sections the further into the laps he went. A brilliant ride from Binder saw him progress from 15th on the grid to 6th place by lap 11. With the two Marquez brothers claiming 9th and 10th.

Lap 13 saw Bagnaia take fastest lap (1:39:728), in 6th place. Closing down on Morbidelli. All the while Rins was putting pressure on Quartararo and trying to catch up enough to pass him.

Bagnaia making his way through the pack. Courtesy of: MotoGP website

Quartararo responded with another fastest lap (1:39:680).

The battle between the Frenchman and the Spaniard continued to escalate and Rins regained fastest lap (1:39:598) on lap 15.

A bump in the circuit caused Rossi to crash out with 11 laps to the finish and track limit warnings were handed out to Morbidelli and Vinales, the latter had already fell fowl to them in qualifying.

Still fighting for 1st place, Rins took fastest lap yet again twice in a row and was pushing himself to his limits trying to catch Quartararo. Sadly, it proved to be to much for the number 41 and he crashed out with only 7 laps to the end. Zarco gained 2nd place with Bagnaia 3rd and Mir 4th. Creating the four riders to break away from the rest of the pack.

Moments after Bagnaia took 2nd place from Zarco, the Frenchman fell, seemingly from another bump in the circuit. Quartararo now lead Bagnaia and reigning champion Mir.

Quartararo seemed to be able to handle the hard rear tyre and use it to his advantage. Slowly gaining a 5.276 second lead ahead of the other two riders who followed behind.

This gap proved to be too big for any of the riders to close down and Quartararo took a very clean victory, with no mistakes, at Portimao. Mir looked to have one last attack in him for 2nd, but Bagnaia gave nothing away. They claimed the last two places on the podium. Morbidelli, with a return to form, just missed out and finished 4th.

Morbidelli back on form. Courtesy of: MotoGP website

Marc Marquez made a herculean effort, even having to change his riding style for race-day and finished a respectable 7th place, remaining ahead of his brother.

Nakagami, who looked like he wasn’t going to be able to even start the race, due to injuries sustained in practice sessions managed to finish the race completing the top 10 riders.

Incredibly six different manufactures finished in the top 7 positions.

The championship standings:

  1. Quartararo (61 points)

  2. Bagnaia (46 points)

  3. Vinales (41 points)

  4. Zarco (40 points)

  5. Mir (38 points)

With two weeks to wait until the fourth round of the championship, will it be enough time for Marc Marquez to heal any further or has this race halted his healing progress? Will it be a third race win in a row for the number 20? Or will we see a new race winner in 2021?

 

Happy Birthday to Fabio Quartararo for Tuesday 20th April.

 

(Featured image: Courtesy of Moto GP website)

Portuguese GP: The Rollercoaster Awaits

Image: WorldSBK.com

The 2021 MotoGP world championship arrives in Europe this weekend, at the stunning Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, on the southern coast of Portugal.

If ever there was a circuit specifically designed to put grand prix motorcycles through the ultimate test, this is undoubtedly it. With its 15 corners (9 right, 6 left), and constant changes of elevation, the circuit is affectionately known by the locals as “A montanha roussa” – The Rollercoaster.

World Superbikes were the first to arrive at the venue back in 2008. Amazingly, it took until the Covid-affected 2020 season before the grand prix paddock arrived – but boy was it worth it, with local hero Miguel Oliveira taking a thrilling victory aboard the Tech3 KTM. Now with the factory Red Bull KTM team for 2021, there is not just hope but expectation to deliver, from the home fans.   

Speaking of expectation, the unknown quantity for this weekend is undoubtedly the returning Marc Marquez. Having been given the green light by his doctor, the eight-time world champion will return to the premier class. The news would have been a morale boost for the Repsol Honda team, as new rider Pol Espargaro and HRC test rider Stefan Bradl endured torrid back-to-back weekends. 

Of course, we do not know what version of Marquez we will have back. Will it be the all conquering, all dominating rider who held an exclusive stranglehold on the championship from 2016-19? Only three riders: Giacomo Agostini, Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi have won more successive premier class titles. Or will we see an initially more reserved Marquez, allowing his body time to adjust back to the extreme rigors of racing at the highest level? Or will injuries have taken a terminal toll to any aspirations of equaling and surpassing Rossi’s haul of 9 world titles? Certainly all and sundry of the MotoGP fan base have been very vocal in their opinions. 

One thing though is certain – Marquez backs himself to the hilt. He has returned because he feels ready to fight for wins – not merely to make up the numbers on the grid. Love him or loathe him, we all await with bated breath for Sunday’s race. Only then will we truly know which Marquez has returned.   

Marc Marquez pole sitter in the 2019 , Aragón,MotoGP race. Image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol

With the emphasis of this circuit very much on cornering stability and speed, the likes of Monster Yamaha and Team Ecstar Suzuki will be licking their lips in anticipation. For Suzuki, they will be eager to put a difficult opening two rounds behind them and send a statement to the field that 2020 was no flash in the pan. Whilst the factory Yamaha outfit will be hoping to continue their stellar early season form, having taken the spoils in both Qatar outings with Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo.

The general consensus this week is that Ducati may well find the going tough here. Whilst the main straight does play to the strength of the V4 engine, and the bike has improved again on corner turn-in – the alarming rate (and indeed suddenness) with which their tyres wore out will be cause for serious concern. Jack Miller at least will now have full use of both his arms for this weekend. The Australian had been struggling with the dreaded ‘arm pump’ in Qatar, which prompted corrective surgery immediately afterwards.

Ducati’s main hope for success may well lie this week with Johann Zarco on the satellite Pramac Racing Ducati. The Frenchman found success in Qatar due to his very smooth riding style, eking out as much life from the Michelin tyres as possible. With tyre wear levels again expected to be high this weekend, Zarco’s ability to nurse the rubber home may yet ensure that Ducati Corse add another rostrum trophy to their collection. 

The team to watch out for this weekend is Aprilia. The Noale-based outfit have made serious improvements since last season. The new ‘slimmed-down’ V4 engine has brought a vast increase in torque for the lower gears, which has seriously improved cornering speed and stability. The trade off has been a loss of power top end. Aleix Espargaro claimed that he was losing as much as 20kph (12.5mph) down the main straight at Losail. Nevertheless, the team managed to finish round two in P10, but only 5.38 seconds behind race winner Quartararo. Both team and rider will be quietly confident that a maiden podium finish is not far away. 

Aprilia have wasted no time to ensure they keep up in the development race. 3-time premier class runner-up Andrea Dovizioso made his much anticipated debut for the team earlier this week, testing at the Jerez circuit. Whilst the team were understandably tight lipped regarding any data, the strongest rumour doing the rounds suggests that the Italian is closing in on a permanent race deal with the team. 

Credit: Suzuki MotoGP

So the King has returned, but the young pretenders are hungry. In his absence Joan Mir (Team Ecstar Suzuki) has shown he is one who can wear the crown. There are no slow riders in MotoGP, and nobody is given quarter on track for past reputation. Come 1 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, all eyes will be fixed on the 22 gladiators as the next chapter in the 2021 championship is written.

As the great Nick Harris used to say: “Let battle commence!”

Miller v Mir: The Right Call

Credit: Suzuki MotoGP

The 2021 MotoGP season has got off to a flyer, after two pulsating rounds of action in the Qatari desert. Lap records have been smashed and the rookies have shown already that their time is now! What we’ve also now got is a dose of controversy.

The decision by the race stewards to not penalise either Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo) for their coming together during the latter stages of the Doha grand prix was divisive amongst fans, to say the least. Depending on which rider is preferred, comments have varied from mild annoyance at supposed ‘inconsistent stewards’ to calling for riders’ heads to roll. Impressive really, when you consider that both riders involved finished the race.

Whilst fans of rival riders will always be tribal in these instances (and it’s partly what makes the sport so loved), the accusations that the race stewards are inconsistent could not be further misguided. The referees of the motor racing world have the unenviable job of trying to keep order of 22 adrenaline-fueled racers going at it on track hammer-and-tongs treading an incredibly thin line between heroics and disaster. I say unenviable, but having done some officiating in sport events myself I can confirm it is also a very enjoyable (if often thankless) thing to do.     

To gain an understanding as to how the stewards came to their decision, one must accept that there are a series of protocols that must be followed – protocols ultimately governed by the rules/laws of that particular sport. First and foremost is reviewing the evidence in chronological order, to determine what happened. 

Now knowing that, below is what objectionably happened with the two incidents:

Mir outbreaks himself into turn 6, resulting in his bike overshooting the apex. Mir corrects this by sitting the bike up, however he makes contact with Miller, and the two are forced out wide. However, Miller is not forced to take evasive action, neither are he and his bike sent tumbling into the gravel. Mir – as mentioned – is deemed to be making corrective action. Lastly, Miller is not forced beyond the track limits, so Mir’s overtake is allowed to stand. As such, no ill-intent can be proven, so it is simply classed as a ‘racing incident’. 

So far, so good. Now we move on to the second incidents where the roles are reversed.

Miller outbreaks himself into the final corner, and he overshoots the apex. Miller then ‘squares off’ the corner and begins to sit the bike up. As he does so, he makes contact with Mir. However, as with the first incident, Mir is not forced beyond the track limits, and he is not forced off the bike. If this was a stand alone incident it would be waived straight through as a legitimate overtake maneuver (albeit a very ugly one). 

However, because this incident has occurred almost immediately after the previous, the stewards are obliged to ensure there was no clear or blatant notion of the rider (Miller in this case) actively seeking revenge on another. This process has been thoroughly enforced following the controversial incidents between Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi at Sepang in 2015, and Roman Fenati grabbing a rival’s brake lever at Misano in 2016. 

To aid with this process, the stewards have access to every camera angle possible – TV and closed-circuit cameras. As such, when reviewing the incident they can not just track the incident, but the moments leading up to it. It is the only way to ascertain whether an incident was premeditated or not. With that, it also enables the stewards to determine external events which may have contributed to the incident in question. In this case, both Mir and Miller are clearly under pressure from riders behind them as they make their attempted overtakes. As such there is a need and urgency from the rider to brake as late as possible to ensure not only their overtake sticks, but also keeps the chasers behind. 

Finally, track conditions are also accounted for – around the Losail circuit, when the wind picks up anywhere off the racing line becomes littered with sand and grip levels drop off the proverbial cliff. With this in mind you are left with two options: 1) Ban overtaking if clean passes can’t be guaranteed. 2) Accept that some overtakes will result in contact as riders struggle for grip off the ideal racing line. 

When all is said and done it is therefore impossible to conclude that Miller intentionally set up an avoidable collision with Mir, nevermind any notion of actively seeking revenge – that one shall reside in a box labelled ‘conspiracy theories’. As such, the only decision the stewards can come to is to not penalise either rider. There is no doubt though that race organisers will have had words with both parties following the race that overtakes like that on a regular basis are not encouraged. 

No penalties this time and it was the correct call – but you can be sure the stewards will be keeping an eye on both riders next time out in Portimao just in case…

16 year old Pedro Acosta, Red Bull Ajo KTM, takes chequered flag in Qatar

The date 4th April 2021 may well go down in motorcycle racing history as the day that Pedro Acosta announced himself to the world. Still only 16 years old, the Spaniard pulled off one of the all-time great rides in any class in modern memory.

Pedro Acosta winner of the second round of the 2021 Moto3 Championship at Losail. Darryn Binder came second and in third place Niccolò Antonelli. Image courtesy of Rob Gray (Polarity Photo)|KTM.

Fans look back at 18th August 1996 when Valentino Rossi won his first 125cc Grand Prix at Brno or 6th June 2010 when Marc Marquez took his first victory in the same class at Mugello. You have to wonder in years to come just how historic the second race of the 2021 season will be in the career of young Acosta.

A rookie winning a race is nothing new, even in only his second race. What stands out though is that Acosta started from the pit lane along with six other riders, some eleven seconds after the lights went out to start the race. As the eighteen laps ticked away, Acosta and Romano Fenati (who finished tenth) dragged the late starters up to the main pack with seven laps remaining. Once there, Acosta picked his way through each rider and when he hit the front, and you might think he had over-used his tyres, he still pulled away. Darryn Binder nearly caught him by the end but the Red Bull rider held on to win by 0.039 seconds.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Acosta will be a star of the future as it was a young Fenati that finished second in his debut at Qatar in 2012 before winning in Jerez at the next round and he’s still in Moto3 at the age of 25 (largely through issues of his own creation).

Binder often featured in the leading pack and was so close to his second ever win. He was lucky to avoid being taken out by an incident involving his teammate John McPhee and Jeremy Alcoba however. With four laps to go, Binder led into turn one from Alcoba  who nearly clipped the back of the South African. Alcoba went over the handlebars and his cartwheeling Honda took out the innocent McPhee who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Scot reacted badly to being taken out of the race two weeks in a row and squared up to the Gresini rider before aiming a kick at his Spanish crown jewels. Both riders will receive a pit lane start at the next round at Portimao in Portugal on 18th April, with McPhee penalised one thousand Euros and 10 seconds and Alcoba one thousand Euros and five seconds.

The last step on the podium went to Nico Antonelli who won here five years ago. The Italian started twelfth and positioned himself in the top six with a lap to go. Fortunately for him, last week’s winner Jaume Masia took Gabriel Rodrigo wide half way around the lap and Antonelli popped up to fourth. The 25-year-old then passed his compatriot Andrea Migno for third and beat him to the line by 0.032 seconds. Masia came home seventh while Argentine rider Rodrigo was only thirteenth.

Kaito Toba, who won here in 2019, finished fifth for his second top ten finish in a row with the rookie taking his best finish so far with sixth. Ayumu Sasaki took his best Losail result in seventh followed by fellow Japanese rider Ryusel Yamanaka who took his best ever finish with eighth in his twentieth start. With Tatsuki Suzuki finishing twelfth and Yuki Kunii fifteenth (his first points finish) there were five Japanese riders in the top fifteen for the first time since Jerez 2019.

RESULTS (TOP 15)

1 – Pedro Acosta – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 25
2 – Darryn Binder – RSA – Petronas Sprinta Honda – 20
3 – Nico Antonelli – ITA – Avintia Esponsorama KTM – 16
4 – Andrea Migno – ITA – Rivacold Snipers Honda – 13
5 – Kaito Toba – JAP – CIP Green Power KTM – 11
6 – Izan Guevara – SPA – Gaviota Aspar Gas Gas – 10
7 – Ayumu Sasaki – JAP – Red Bull Tech 3 KTM – 9
8 – Ryusel Yamanaka — JAP – CarXpert PruestelGP KTM – 8
9 – Jaume Masia – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 7
10 – Romano Fenati – ITA – Sterilgarda Max Husqvarna – 6
11 – Jason Dupasquier – SUI – CarXpert PruestelGP KTM – 5

12 – Tatsuki Suzuki – JAP – SIC58 Squadra Corse Honda – 4
13 – Gabriel Rodrigo – ARG – Indonesian Gresini Honda – 3
14 – Max Kofler – AUT – CIP Green Power KTM – 2
15 – Yuki Kunii – JAP – Honda Team Asia Honda – 1

STANDINGS (TOP 15)

1 – Pedro Acosta – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 45
2 – Darryn Binder – RSA – Petronas Sprinta Honda – 36
3 – Jaume Masia – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 32
4 – Nico Antonelli – ITA – Avintia Esponsorama KTM – 26
5 – Izan Guevara – SPA – Gaviota Aspar Gas Gas – 19
6 – Kaito Toba – JAP – CIP Green Power KTM – 18
7 – Gabriel Rodrigo – ARG – Indonesian Gresini Honda – 14
8 = Sergio Garcia – SPA – Gaviota Aspar Gas Gas – 13
8 = Andrea Migno – ITA – Rivacold Snipers Honda – 13
10 – Tatsuki Suzuki – JAP – SIC58 Squadra Corse Honda – 12
11 = Romano Fenati – ITA – Sterilgarda Max Husqvarna – 11

11 = Jason Dupasquier – SUI – CarXpert PruestelGP KTM – 11
13 – Ryusel Yamanaka — JAP – CarXpert PruestelGP KTM – 10
14 – Ayumu Sasaki – JAP – Red Bull Tech 3 KTM – 9
15 – Carlos Tatay – SPA – Avintia Esponsorama KTM – 4

Un et Deux – the French reign at Doha

Round two under the Qatar lights found some riders floundering and some soaring. If it was thought to be a repeat of last weekend then audiences were in for a shock.

The qualifying had the biggest surprise which came from the rookie, Jorge Martin who took pole! With a 1.53.106 second lap, snatching it from Vinales, who was confident he had done enough at the flag. Next position went to Martin’s team-mate and Vinales ended up 3rd to round off the front row. The Suzuki’s still seemed to have issues with qualifying and ended up in 8th and 9th. Rossi made changes to his bike which turned out to hinder his chances at getting another 4th in qualifying this time and ended up 21st on the grid.

Martin takes pole on Saturday. Courtesy of: Moto GP website

All riders started Sunday on both rear and front soft tyres again, with the exception of Oliveira, Binder, Lecuona and Petrucci. Perhaps they had thought a different strategy may help them in the closing section of the race. Once again, the wind was blowing and causing sand to go across the track, meaning the tyres would degrade quicker.

The two front Ducati’s got a flying start, with Martin leading Zarco but it was Vinales that went backwards as Aleix Espargaro came through and took 3rd place from the Spaniard, a very surprising Oliveira, who was 12th on the grid, shot into 4th . The next 22 laps were sure to be exciting!

By lap three, Rins had already made the fastest lap, eager to make it to the front early on, now in 3rd place, he started putting pressure on Zarco.

Lap four was Bagnaia’s turn to take fastest lap. But it was the Suzuki’s that were looking menacing as Mir came through to 5th place and Rins took 2nd from Zarco. However, the Ducati took back the position on the straight.

Meanwhile the factory Yamahas were sticking to their plan, which was to conserve tyres and were in 9th and 10th place.

With 17 laps to go Martin was still leading, in only his second Moto GP race, from Rins and Zarco.

Martin leads Rins. Courtesy of: Moto GP website

Performing well in the flowing corners, the Suzuki was putting pressure on the rookie, but the straight, once again was the time for Zarco to pounce, re-gaining 2nd.

Trying to hunt down Martin, Rins took back 2nd place from the Frenchman on turn 10 – lap 8. He knew he had to breakaway from Zarco before the straight. With 13 laps to go Oliveira started to go backwards, unfortunately, the tyre choice didn’t seem to be any better.

The two Petronas riders were struggling as well – not even in the top ten.

The top nine riders however, were starting to breakaway from the rest of the pack and were creating their own race. Martin still lead, now half-way through the 22 laps, whilst Vinales was bringing up the rear. The first six bikes were all four Ducati’s and the two Suzuki’s. Espargaro on the Aprilia, was the only bike not with it’s teammate, out in front of the two factory Yamaha’s.

Mir and Miller were battling for 5th place on lap 13, Mir touched Miller going underneath him to take the position. But, coming onto the straight Miller (43) went wide and and seemed to go straight into Mir, forcing him to go all the way back to 9th. There was an investigation from the stewards but both times were seen as racing incidents.

Things went from bad to worse for Alex Marquez who had a second DNF in a row as he crashed on lap 14.

However, things were looking good for Quartararo (20), who was moving through the front pack and was now 4th, behind the Ducati’s, with 8 laps till the end. Battling for the position alongside Rins, he knew he had to create a chance in order to get on the podium. His teammate was now in 7th with Mir still in 9th place. It seemed the Yamaha’s tactic was paying off.

With six laps till the end, 20 took 3rd place from 43, it was taken straight back on the start-finish line but a mistake going into the first corner from Miller meant Quartararo re-took 3rd once more. The battle for the podium was heating up.

The two Frenchmen then fought for 2nd on lap 18. Zarco tried to defend but Quartararo’s Yamaha had conserved tyres better and was stronger on the corners, meaning he was able to take 1st place as well on turn 14, leading into turn 15, from Martin. The rookie had shocked everyone by leading for most of the race. Martin wasn’t going to give his position away easily and on the straight the Ducati roared past the Yamaha. But, Quartararo re-gained first place soon after.

With four laps to go it was anyone’s call who would win. Quartararo now lead Martin, Zarco and Vinales.

Courtesy of: Moto GP website

Top Gun’ briefly took 3rd place from Zarco, which took Zarco out of the top three for the first time the whole race.

‘El Diablo’ started to pull away from the two satellite Ducati’s and with Vinales putting pressure on Zarco, Zarco decided he needed to try and make a pass on his teammate. Martin went defensive with two laps to go, not wanting to give away his position. Vinales couldn’t keep up with number 5 and Rins took 4th place from him into turn one on the last lap. The penultimate corner of the last lap was Zarco’s last shot at 2nd, after admitting in the post-race interview he was acting as a “… bodyguard for Martin…” he decided to over-take his team-mate to finish 2nd.

It was Quartararo that took the chequered flag, taking his fourth Moto GP victory alongside fellow Frenchman Zarco. The first time in 67 years that two Frenchmen have stood first and second on the podium in the premier class. Martin finished an impressive third to round off the podium. Fourth was Rins, fifth Vinales, sixth and seventh place were the factory Dukes and Mir managed to make up two places since the collision with Miller to finish seventh.

Zarco stood on the podium for the 50th time and now leads the championship with 40 points. Proving to be consistent with two second places in a row.

This thrilling battle was the closest Moto GP race in 73 years. Teams learnt from last weekend and everyone seemed far stronger.

There is now a two week gap until the next event, but the big news is Marc Marquez is said to be making a return in Portugal, which leads into the many European races. Will we see a fit, strong and hungry Marquez? Will the other riders be too far ahead of him? Or will we witness a masterclass performance?

Whatever the outcome, it is sure to be a thrilling ride.

 

Featured image courtesy of: Moto GP website.

Dream double-header making History for Brit in Qatar

It was a Qatar dream to end the double-header for British rider Sam Lowes in the jam-packed Moto2 race at the Losail International Circuit.

Sam Lowes, Winner of the second round of the 2021 MotoGP championship. Remy Gardner second and Raul Fernandez. Image courtesy of Rob Gray (Polarity Photo)|KTM

Sam became the first British rider since Mike Hailwood to win the opening 2 rounds of the season in the intermediate class since 1966.

Despite the victory, challenging weather conditions throughout the entirety of the weekend made it challenging for teams across the board – battling against the Doha winds and dust in order to find the pace and comfortable set-up for race day.

The Adriatic man Marco Bezzecchi lead the race for the opening laps after getting a fantastic start, however it wasn’t enough for the Elf Marc VDS rider to sit and watch behind him – as with 17 laps to go Sam was able to overtake and held on comfortably for the entirety. It wasn’t particularly peachy for all riders though, as things soon turned sour for a number of laps as the pressure was heightened. 

One of the victims of this was John Hopkins’ apprentice Joe Roberts who, although finished a respectable 6th last weekend under the lights – on the 8th lap tucked into a slide. This was also bad news for Ai Ogura, who in order to avoid Robert’s sliding machine had to run far wide off track. 

Joining fellow American rider was Cameron Beaubier who with 12 laps to go came off his machine. Cameron had been strong all weekend with the American Racing Team, last weekend finishing 11th. It had been a positive weekend for the team with Beaubier getting to grips with the track, bike and team despite the challenging conditions.

It wasn’t all sunshine and positive endings for the Brits today. Petronas SRT rider Jake Dixon suffered a fairly mystical accident with 7 laps to go today, looking upon inspection taking Marcel Shrötter down with him. The crash was not actually shown live, but instead panned to imagery of both riders and their machines down. Liqui Moly Intact GP rider Shrötter appeared up and unharmed during the live race, however Dixon was still down. Later reports confirmed that it was a solo racing incident on behalf of the Brit that unfortunately couldn’t be avoided by Shrötter. Thankfully, Jake confirmed on his Twitter account that although gutted with ending the weekend with a DNF he was feeling okay after the crash.

Following last weekends’ penalty involving team mate Xavi Vierge, it’s fair to say Jake is looking ahead to Portimao with a clean, fresh head with the focus to maintain the fantastic pace he’s shown in the opening two rounds of the championship.

Towards the end of the race Solunion Aspar Team rider Canet ended a tough weekend for the team in the gravel – following not far behind by SAG Team rider Thomas Luthi who has been fairly under the radar this weekend. The initial incident for Luthi made for worrying viewing, however the rider was up and unharmed.

It was a stunning race for Red Bull Ajo KTM team with last weeks’ runner up Remy Gardner showing no defeat this weekend. He consistently held good pace not letting Lowes get away. Smashing Luthi’s all-time lap record at the circuit in the final lap, Gardner walked away with another 20 points in the bag. Orange plastered the podium as joined beside his team mate was rookie Raul Fernandez who has shown great pace all weekend, proving that not all rookie’s need time to settle! 

Personal special mention to Stefano Manzi who, to say the least has had a few seasons of finding his feet again in order to find the right bike for him. He held strong and consistent pace today which was reflected highly in his lap times and ultimately his finishing result of 8th position. A fantastic result for himself and the Pons Racing team.

FIRST FIFTEEN RIDERS

1 – Sam Lowes

2 – Remy Gardner

3 – Raul Fernandez

4 – Marco Bezzecchi

5 – Ai Ogura

6 – Augusto Fernandez

7 – Celestino Vietti

8 – Stefano Manzi

9 – Xavi Vierge

10 – Fabio Di Giannantonio

11 – Tony Arbolino

12 – Bo Bensnyder

13 – Jorge Navarro

14 – Lorenzo Dalla Porta

15 – Albert Arenas  

Overall, what a way to kick start the season. This weekends’ racing is an absolute credit to all those working hard to ensure us viewers have access to a safe season of racing. The upcoming Portimao race leaves Lowes ahead of the game with 50 points in the bag, Gardner only shy behind with 40.

As they say where our bikes land next, vejo você em breve!

Sam Lowes takes first win of the season in Moto2 in Qatar

Sam Lowes became the first British rider since the late, great Barry Sheene to win an opening grand prix of the season. Although Sheene’s last opening day victory was in 1979, he did win the opening races in both his title years 1976 & 1977 and Lowes will hope for the same success by the end of the season.

Sam Lowes, Image courtesy of Polarity Photo/KTM

The 30-year-old was in commanding form all weekend, second in FP1 and fastest in FP2 before taking pole position on Saturday. Although he was passed by both Bo Bendsneyder and Marco Bezzecchi at the start he soon took the lead and controlled the race from the front. After missing out on a challenge for the 2020 title through injury, the 2013 World Supersport champion will be hoping every race weekend goes as smoothly as this one.

Remy Gardner finished second for Red Bull KTM Ajo after passing his teammate Raul Fernandez with twelve laps to go. Although the Australian rider could not catch Lowes, he did finish three seconds ahead of third place after a solid ride. Fernandez dropped down to fifth place in the end but should be delighted with his showing over the weekend, especially qualifying on the front row on his debut.

The battle for the last step on the podium was a great one between Italian riders Fabio Di Giannantonio and Marco Bezzecchi. In the end, Gresini rider Di Giannantonio came out victorious and it was a great tribute to the late Fausto Gresini to see one of his riders on the podium. It was the fifth podium for the 22-year-old who is still chasing that first elusive win. Bezzecchi was fourth overall last season and is expected to be the main challenger to Lowes this year but missed out on the podium by just 0.013 seconds.

Joe Roberts and Jake Dixon were in close company for much of the race on Sunday. Dixon in particular can be pleased with his performance as he is still recovering from a wrist injury which will have hampered his ability and certainly his stamina. It can surely only be a matter of time before the Brit takes his first podium finish.

Image courtesy of Polarity Photo/KTM

Germany’s Marcel Schrotter finished eighth ahead of Bo Bendsneyder who achieved his second-best finish in Moto2. The Dutch rider looked much better on the Kalex chassis after riding Tech 3 and NTS since he graduated to the class in 2018. Jorge Navarro came home tenth on the first non-Kalex bike, the Boscoscuro which is a re-branded Speed Up.

American Cameron Beaubier had an impressive first race in Moto2. The five-times AMA Superbike champion qualified 22nd but made steady progress throughout the race and finished eleventh in front of rookie Celestino Vietti.

FIRST FIFTEEN RIDERS

1 – Sam Lowes – GBR – Elf Marc VDS Racing – 25 points
2 – Remy Gardner – AUS – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 20
3 – Fabio Di Giannantonio – ITA – Federal oil Gresini – 16
4 – Marco Bezzecchi – ITA – Sky Racing Team VR46 – 13
5 – Raul Fernandez – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 11
6 – Joe Roberts – USA – Italtrans Racing – 10
7 – Jake Dixon – GBR – Petronas Sprinta – 9
8 – Marcel Schrotter – GER – Liqui Moly Intact – 8
9 – Bo Bendsneyder – NED – Pertamina SAG – 7
10 – Jorge Navarro – SPA – MB Conveyors Speed Up – 6
11 – Cameron Beaubier – USA – American Racing – 5

12 – Celestino Vietti – ITA – Sky Racing Team VR46 – 4
13 – Aron Canet – SPA – Inde Aspar Team – 3
14 – Augusto Fernandez – SPA – Elf Marc VDS Racing – 2
15 – Thomas Luthi – SUI – Pertamina SAG – 1

Red Bull top of table after Race 1 in Moto3, Qatar

Jaume Masia won an exciting race to start the 2021 season, winning in Qatar ahead of his Red Bull teammate Pedro Acosta. The pair had spent the majority of the race near the front of the leading pack and took first and second at the start of the last lap. For Masia it was his fourth win in Moto3 and he has now won three of his last six races after he won both rounds at Aragon last year.

Jaume Masia Winner of the 2021 Moto3 Grand Prix of Qatar. Pedro Acosta second. Image courtesy of Polarity Photo/KTM

Rookie Acosta qualified eleventh but worked his way forward early on to work well with his teammate, especially when trying to break away from Darryn Binder who finished third. The sixteen-year-old Spaniard proved he is one of the rookies to look out for this season with a confident ride. Another rookie worth noting for the right reasons is Izan Guevara who qualified on the front row for the new Gas Gas team and finished seventh in the race.

One rookie with a race to forget was Xavier Artegas after he took out three riders as well as himself on the second lap with a move which could be described as optimistic or adventurous at best, or likely in less polite terms by the riders he retired. Coming into the heavy-braking left hand corner he tried to go up the inside but had too much speed and too little grip to make it work. His move took out Jeremy Alcoba, Andrea Mignoe and one of the pre-race favourites John McPhee. The Brit had qualified on the front row with his new teammate Binder on pole position.

Binder had a solid race from the front row, riding in his usual aggressive style with late-braking passes and was in the top three for many of the eighteen laps. In the end though he could not catch the breakaway from the Red Bull riders on the last lap and settled for his fifth career podium.

The entire race was a typical Moto3 affair with places changing every lap and plenty of riders going three or four wide into turn one. In the penultimate lap though there was one fantastic rear-facing onboard shot showing the riders going six-wide into one right hand turn and all coming out unscathed. It was a perfect example of the combination of skill and madness required to race at this level.

Guevara’s teammate Sergio Garcia had a solid race on the Gas Gas, running in the leading pack throughout and staying out of trouble. He just did not have enough at the end to reach he podium. It was very similar for Argentine rider Gabriel Rodrigo although at one point it did look like his chance of a high finish had gone when he clipped Masia’s rear wheel and ran wide. The 24-year-old pulled himself back up from outside the top ten to finish fifth in the end.

Jaume Masia Winner of the 2021 Moto3 Grand Prix of Qatar. Pedro Acosta second and Darryn Binder third. Image courtesy of Polarity Photo/KTM1

Nico Antonelli qualified tenth and was largely unnoticed in the early stages of the race but in the final third he worked his way through to the front and led shortly before the final lap. He dropped back to sixth by the chequered flag.  His 2020 teammate Tastsuki Suzuki finished eighth with Gueveara between them. The Japanese rider started dead last after failing to set a qualifying time in Q1 so a top ten finish was a great result.

2019 winner Kaito Toba finished tenth ahead of Jason Dupasquier who took his first points finish. Romano Fenati made his name here in 2012 on his debut with second place but struggled around to eleventh ahead of Carlos Tatay.

TOP FIFTEEN RIDERS

1 – Jaume Masia – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 25 points
2 – Pedro Acosta – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM – 20
3 – Darryn Binder – RSA – Petronas Sprinta Honda – 16
4 – Sergio Garcia – SPA – Aspar Gas Gas – 13
5 – Gabriel Rodrigo – ARG – Indonesian Gresini Honda – 11
6 – Nico Antonelli – ITA – Avintia KTM – 10
7 – Izan Guevara – SPA – Aspar Gas Gas – 9
8 – Tatsuki Suzuki – JAP – SIC58 Squadra Corse Honda – 8
9 – Kaito Toba – JAP – CIP Green Power KTM – 7
10 – Jason Dupasquier – SUI – CarXpert PruestelGP KTM – 6
11 – Romano Fenati – ITA -Max Racing Husqvarna – 5

12 – Carlos Tatay – SPA – Avintia KTM – 4
13 – Filip Salac -CZE – Rivacold Snipers Honda – 3
14 – Ryusei Yamanaka – JAP – CarXpert PruestelGP KTM – 2
15 – Max Kofler – AUT – CIP Green Power KTM – 1

It’s a first for Top Gun

After not being able to race at Qatar in 2020, audiences were eagerly awaiting the first Moto GP race of 2021.

But, did it live up to everyone’s expectations? Under those amazing bright lights, we got to see the new glistening colours of the teams, the glittering helmets of the riders and one intriguing race.

All teams chose to start with both front and rear soft tyres, which would always be an interesting factor as the laps progressed.

The Ducati’s, who had dominated Qatar in 2019 and 2018, got an amazing start with four of their bikes leading the pack from the beginning. Bagnaia was out in front from Miller, who was participating in his 100th Moto GP start, following him were Zarco and Martin. Martin managed to make up an impressive 10 places from the grid and Zarco made up four. The Ducati power was definitely something to witness, three Yamahas then followed suit.

Sand being blown over the track due to the high winds caused Petrucci to be the first to fall on lap one.

By lap two Zarco had passed Miller to take second place. However it was Bagnaia that managed to clinch fastest lap by lap 3. Quartararo was also pushing hard and managed to get fourth place in the same lap. Last year’s champion Mir, was now pushing through the pack and was behind Rossi in ninth.

Fastest lap went to Quartararo on lap 4, who was behind his teammate at the time.

Martin in his first race in Moto GP, battled hard to keep his position but the Yamahas proved to much for him and he went to sixth place on lap 5. Vinales then took fastest lap from his teammate, whilst taking his new position past Martin.

Bagnaia, Miller, Quartararo and Vinales managed to break- away from the pack and create their own race. With Aleix Espargaro slowly hunting Valentino down, who was on the next Yamaha along, in his new team Petronas. Espargaro managed to pass him on lap 7. In the meantime Rossi’s new team mate, Morbidelli had fell to position twentieth.

Unfortunately for last year’s pole man and Honda’s top qualifier this year – Nakagami crashed out on the same lap. Meanwhile, Rins and Mir, on the two Suzuki’s, carried on tracking down the front five.

By lap 12, Vinales had made it to second place and was showing Bagnaia that he meant business. His teammate (20) went backwards to sixth place.

Martin had gone backwards as well to thirteenth place on lap 13. Zarco was remaining steady in third.

By lap 14, Vinales was pushing Bagnaia, but neither one was willing to give in. Alex Marquez then finished LCR’s hope to get any points during the race by also crashing out. Both riders were un-hurt.

A new contender for the front was appearing, Rins seemed to be the one to watch. With 8 laps until the end he and Miller were battling on the track.

Lap 15, Vinales took the opportunity and passed Bagnaia for prime position. He pushed straight away and managed to make a gap from the super-quick Ducati’s.

Reigning champion Mir, was still slowly progressing and took fifth place from Miller on lap 16.

On the first corner of lap 17, Zarco on the satellite Ducati passed the full factory Ducati rider Bagnaia, whose tyres may have been degrading faster then others by this point, having lead for most of the race.

Vinales now lead Zarco, Bagnaia and the two Suzuki’s. Had the Suzuki’s qualified better, they may have been further up the pack quicker and would have been fighting for the all important podium positions.

With five laps to go Rins looked menacing behind his teammate Mir. But it was Mir that lined up to pass Bagnaia and finally took third place on lap 20. But Bagnaia didn’t want to give up the place easily. Mir who had been steadily chipping away, coming from 10th on the grid was now in third place, with Zarco still in second and Vinales leading.

Into the final lap, Mir passed Zarco on turn 15, for second place. Fighting constantly against the raging winds, the two Ducati’s were now following as he tried to get away, but he missed the apex into turn 16 and went slightly wide. Mir held firm but as the Dukes shifted into third gear, the speed proved to be too much again for the Suzuki and they passed the number 36 on the final straight. A crest-fallen Suzuki team and many fans had their hearts in their mouths while witnessing yet again the might of the Red Devils.

Top Gun, who proved to be super smooth, won the opening race with Zarco (who had not left the top three from lap one – remaining constant throughout) and Bagnaia taking third on the podium.

Last points scorer went to Martin.

Bagnaia commented at the end of the race “…my bike saved my podium…” with Vinales saying that the “…Ducati’s are unbelievable…”. Is this the first glimpse of Ducati’s come-back?

Qatar will once again host the Moto GP race next weekend at the same time. Will we see the same people battling it out at the front? Or have people shown their hands? And how will others respond?

 

Courtesy of: GresiniRacing.com

Lastly, it was with great sadness to hear that recently Moto GP lost someone very special – Fausto Gresini. He will be greatly missed within Moto GP, Moto 2 and 3.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured image courtesy of Yamaha Racing

Stunning pole for Lowes in Moto2 Qualifying from Qatar

Sam Lowes lived up to his billing as favourite for pole position with a stunning performance in qualifying in Qatar. The Brit is aiming to take control of the championship as early as possible after missing out on the 2020 title through injury.

Marco Bezzecchi, Moto2 race, European MotoGP, 08 November 2020. Picture courtesy of Triumph

Lowes will be joined on the front row by rookie Raul Fernandez who was on pole six times last year in Moto3 on his way to fourth in the standings. Dutch rider Bo Bendsneyder will start third which is a huge improvement on his 2020 form when he only scored points in four races (one of which was Qatar).

Sky Racing Team VR46 rider Marco Bezzecchi is tipped as a challenger to Lowes this year and will start from the head of row two alongside American Joe Roberts and Australian Remy Gardner. British rider Jake Dixon will start seventh after running as high as second at one point and was lucky that contact from his Petronas teammate Xavi Vierge didn’t cause a fall.

Fabio Di Giannantonio came through Q1 and qualified eighth and with Jorge Navarro ninth.

Both Simone Corsi and Marcos Ramirez will be sore tonight after heavy falls but both riders walked away from their falls in Q1.

1 – Sam Lowes – GBR – Marc VDS

2 – Raul Fernandez – SPA – Red Bull Ajo KTM

3 – Bo Bendsneyder – NED – Pertamina SAG

4 – Marco Bezzecchi – ITA – Sky Racing VR46

5 – Joe Roberts – USA – Italtrans Racing

6 – Remy Gardner – AUS – Red Bull Ajo KTM

7 – Jake Dixon – GBR – Petronas Sprinta

8 – Fabio Di Giannantonio – ITA – Federal Oil Gresini

9 – Jorge Navarro – SPA – MB Conveyors Speed Up

10 – Celestino Vietti – ITA – Sky Racing VR46

11 – Nicolo Bulega – ITA – Federal Oil Gresini

12 – Aron Canet – SPA – Inde Aspar Team