Circuit: Losail International Circuit
For a track geographically located in the arse end of nowhere, Losail has dished up some wild racing.
Well, what at first was a quiet offseason has been absolutely rocking of late – First the MotoGP race in Qatar was called off because of COVID-19 travel restrictions into Qatar grounding all the teams and riders based in Italy (Aka half the field), then Thailand (Set for March 20-22) was called off and rescheduled for October.
And then on Friday, it was confirmed that recently retired MotoGP legend Jorge Lorenzo will race as a wildcard for Yamaha in Barcelona in June.
Bloody hell, everyone’s pulling a John Farnham comeback now.
Fortunately, the Moto2 and Moto3 categories (And the Asia Talent Cup) were both testing in Qatar before the announcements about travel were made, so there was an opening round of Grand Prix racing in Losail.
Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster
A couple of changes have hit Moto2 this year, the biggest being Tech3 leaving for Moto3, and KTM leaving to focus on MotoGP, although the Red Bull KTM team will still be in the field riding Kalex bikes.
Qatar also marked 10 years since the first Moto2 race after the rebranding from 250cc, a race which was won by Japan’s Shoya Tomizawa, who sadly died later that year in an accident at Misano.
He may be gone, but he’s certainly not forgotten.
Throughout practice, a number of top riders went down – Xavi Vierge, Tom Luthi went down about 3 times, and Augusto Fernandez went down in FP2.
Aussie Remy Gardner (Riding an older 2019 Kalex) had a nasty headbanger in FP2 on Friday evening, breaking so hard into Turn 1 that the bike inevitably bit back and highsided, causing Gardner to hit his head on the machine, and eventually hit the tarmac so hard that his visor flew off his helmet.
He walked away unscathed after a checkup, but had another fall in FP3, although this time the Aussie was able to get back to the pits and eventually back on track, setting a time good enough to go straight into Q2.
In a result few could’ve seen coming, Californian Joe Roberts (No relation to the legendary Kenny Roberts Snr and Jnr), the only American currently riding in Grand Prix racing, being looked after by former factory Suzuki rider John Hopkins, looked very good on Friday, smashing the unofficial lap record with a 1.58.421, and he was comfortably the fastest of anyone.
Motorcycle racing has long been crying out for another great Californian – The Roberts, ‘Steady Eddie’ Lawson, Wayne Rainey…
After a few lean years, Joe might finally be able to get something going.
Valentino Rossi’s younger brother Luca Marini set a new course record 1.58.136 with the aid of a slipstream down the pit straight, but Smokin’ Joe, with Red White and Blue on his leathers and in his veins, looked on course to become the first Moto2 rider to set a sub-1.58 at Losail, but would ultimately set an identical lap time to Marini, with the tiebreaker being their second fastest time, which went the way of Roberts.
On another note, Roberts probably takes the cake for the best helmet in the Moto2 field – I’m just disappointed they couldn’t make his leathers look like Evel Knievel.
Enea Bastianini scored his first Grand Prix front row start, finishing only a tenth of a second behind, while Gardner’s solid results from recent testing in Losail definitely showed, qualifying 6th.
It was incredible to think, Roberts only had 2 points finishes in 2019…. and his best qualifying was 10th.
What a turnaround, the first pole for an American in Moto2 since Kenny Noyes took pole in France 2010!
Still on the subject of turnarounds, Augusto Fernandez (Taking Alex Marquez’ former ride) started from 12th, Tom Luthi finished 2nd in the 2019 race, but would start from 18th, and last year’s Moto3 World Champion Lorenzo Dalla Porta was even worse, qualifying 27th on his intermediate debut.
Race (20 laps)
Despite their considerable success in Grand Prix racing, the last time an American won an intermediate race was John Kocinski at the 1990 Australian Grand Prix on a Yamaha.
It turned out that wait would continue.
Marini easily won the jump, Bastianini jumped Roberts for 2nd, the KTM/Kalex of Jorge Martin soon attacked the American, Bastiannini took the lead from Marini halfway through the opening lap, although Marini soon reclaimed the lead.
Gardner jumped cleanly and passed Navarro for 5th, but they both fell prey to the charging Lorenzo Baldassari, after which Gardner seemed to fall away from the leaders for half the race.
Down the field, Augusto Fernandez made an awful start and fell to 17th, and his night ended when he fell at Turn 6 on Lap 3.
Roberts settled down and was back up to 2nd place by Lap 5, and set about keeping Marini honest by giving Vale’s younger brother a couple of divebombs.
As Marini dealt with Roberts, the battle for 3rd was taking off – Bastiannini and Martin nearly cleaned each other up on Lap 10, Martin went wide and fell to 7th (It got even worse after that), while Baldassarri emerged ahead for the time being.
The big surprise was the pace of Gardner’s 2019 SAG teammate Tetsuta Nagashima on the KTM/Kalex, who was up to 5th (From 14th) and all over the rear of Bastianini, who was all over the back of Baldassarri, who was all over the back of Roberts, who was making ground on Marini!
Nagashima had the grip to try a crazy move on the Italian, but he ran out of room, and gave Lorenzo the feeling of rubber on leather, but stayed upright and fell to 6th place.
Having started on a soft front tyre, Marini was now seriously struggling for grip, and he made a mistake on Lap 15, allowing Roberts and Baldassarri into the lead, as the Top 6 were within half a second of each other.
It was Moto2 with Moto3 intensity!
Baldassarri took the lead on Lap 16, with Bastianini firing through into 2nd, as Marini’s tyres fell off the cliff, and he was going to be lucky to finish in the Top 10.
Nagashima passed Roberts on Lap 17, giving him the clear shot he needed to challenge the Italian rider
Gardner had looked after his tyres very well, climbing into a clear 6th with 3 laps left, and he was cleaving into the gap to the podium contenders.
Nagashima shot into the lead on Lap 18, claiming both Italian riders with a ballsy move into Turn 1, and in a show of how much grip he still had, rocketed out to an awesome 8-tenth lead in barely a lap, slamming 2 nails into the collective coffin of the field.
As they began the final lap, Nagashima had deadset shat on everyone with another fastest lap, while Gardner claimed Navarro for 5th, and was all over the back of Roberts, but simply ran out of laps.
Speaking of which, Roberts and Gardner… Two great two wheel names of yesteryear.
In a performance that served as a brilliant tribute to his late compatriot Shoya Tomizawa, Nagashima charged from 14th to claim his first Moto2 victory, Baldassarri claimed 2nd, Bastianini in 3rd, Roberts in a career best 4th, and Gardner 5th, which should hopefully restore a bit of confidence.
10 years after Shoya’s memorable win, Japan got the sequel.
Some noteworthy results include Jorge Navarro as the first Speed Up home, Marcel Schrotter from 13th to 7th, and Aron Canet, on his Moto2 debut, finished a really good 8th.
Capping off Marini’s nightmare, he fell from 14th at the last corner in a collision with rookie Jake Dixon, falling hard on his wrist.
Led 3/4 of the race, and yet, he had Jacques Merde to show for it.
There was a maiden win in Moto2… But it wasn’t for the Stars and Stripes!
Your typical Sunday on steroids Moto3 race saw the Top 12 riders all with a shot at a win as the final lap began, and it was immediately whittled down to 11, as Darryn Binder (In 5th) was on the outside into Turn 1, only for Tony Arbolino to come across, cut out his front tyre, and send the Saffer spearing into the gravel.
In the wash-up, King Albert Arenas beat out the Scot John McPhee, claiming KTM’s 100th Grand Prix win – Their first was none other than Casey Stoner on a 125cc in Malaysia 2004.
Jaume Masia originally finished 3rd, but he was docked a position for exceeding track limits at Turn 11 on the last lap, as the FIM decided to get really aggressive on the penalties, regardless of being pushed wide/run out of room.
Japan’s Ai Ogura, who was getting ready to cry in his garage, got the word that he’d been bumped up to the podium, and set off down to parc ferme.
Masia wasn’t the only rider to feel the wrath of the FIM – Arbolino, Jeremy Alcoba, Raul Fernandez, and Gabriel Rodriguo were all docked 1 position for exceeding track limits, which meant polesitter Tasui Suzuki was bumped up to 5th.
6 of the top 7 riders were Hondas…. But none of them were the winner.
Next Up (At this stage): The Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin on April 5th.