Motorsport

Two-Wheel Tuesday: Portuguese Moto2

It can’t be a coincidence that Remy Gardner finally cracks it for a win in Grand Prix racing a mere two days before the ABC air the documentary about Wayne Gardner’s journey to the 1987 500cc title.

Funnily enough, did Remy’s success even crack the ABC’s Monday bulletin?


Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster


The Portimao Rollercoaster, site of this week’s Remy Rollercoaster

For the first time since it was re-branded from the old 250cc class, the Moto2 title fight actually went down to the last race of the season, the first time the Intermediate title had been decided at the final race since 2006, although back then Jorge Lorenzo was 20 points ahead of Andrea Dovizioso, so it didn’t even feel like a genuine title fight.

Enea Bastianini held most of the cards with a 14 point lead (194-180) over Sam Lowes, who was dealing with 2 fractures in his right hand after a disastrous visit to Valencia saw him lose the title lead, Luca Marini was 18 points behind his compatriot, with Marco Bezzecchi 23 points back, needing something resembling Stephen Bradbury to win the title.

From an Australian viewpoint, Portimao was the last race for Remy Gardner with the plucky little Onexox TKKR SAG Team before he joins Aki Ajo’s Red Bull KTM setup, and through so many crushing lows over the last 2 seasons, Gardner was departing the Malaysian team in the best form of his young and often disrupted career, pretty much locked on to 6th place in the Championship thanks to 3 podiums and multiple Top 5 finishes, having outridden his 2019 Kalex (Against faster 2020 models) all season.

In other news, with Bastianini, Marini and Jorge Martin all heading up to Ducati’s MotoGP setup, a shock fourth promotion to the premier class was thrown up on Sunday, when Joe Roberts, who was already leaving America Racing, suddenly rocketed into favouritism for the second Aprilia MotoGP seat, which would’ve made him the first full time American rider in MotoGP since the late Nicky Hayden departed in 2015, which would’ve been brilliant for one of the sport’s biggest markets.

However, it appears that deal is now dead in the water after Roberts decided against aborting his 2021 move to Italtrans Racing to take Bastianini’s old seat, with the prospect of racing for a top Intermediate team seemingly too good to pass up.

His compatriot, former World Superbike rider Cameron Beaubier, will take Roberts’ former spot at American Racing, making it 2 Americans in Moto2 next season.


Qualifying


In an early sign of promise, Gardner was fastest in FP3 to top the combined Practice times (Top 14 go straight into Q2) by 2 tenths to Luca Marini, with Sam Lowes in 5th, doing himself no favours with another fall on that injured right hand in FP3, Bastianini was 9th, while Bezzecchi was only 15th, Jorge Martin (5th Overall) was down in 22nd, although they both reached Q2 via Q1.

While Portimao is fantastic to watch on TV with it’s rollercoaster layout, there seems to be a similar problem to Austria with blind crests and unsighted riders, which Aron Canet showed in Q2 when he fell over the Turn 8 crest, and had to frighteningly scamper for his life as riders approached at close to full throttle, but thank crap there wasn’t a repeat of the infamous Franco Uncini-Wayne Gardner incident at Assen in 1983 that left Uncini in a coma.

Having come within a few inches of getting hit and potentially losing his life, Canet got a lift back to the pits, took the spare bike, and started 15th.

So with a title fight attracting most of the attention, Gardner backed up his pace from Saturday morning to take his second Pole Position of 2020, his third in Moto2, a fantastic start to his SAG farewell!

Luca Marini gave himself every hope of the title starting from 2nd, Fabio Di Giannantonio hoped to end a disappointing year on a good note off the front row, Bastianini would start from an ideal 4th, Lowes pulled out a mighty fine 5th despite needing to be closer to an operating table than the saddle of a 765cc bike, and you could scratch a line through Bezzecchi starting from 12th, pretty much leaving the title down to Luca, Sam and Enea.

It’s funny to note the SAG team riders were starting at the polar opposite ends of the grid, with Kasma Daniel well over 1.7 seconds slower than the second-slowest rider Hafizh Syahrin.


Race (23 Laps)


With 14 points up his sleeve, ‘The Beast’ Bastianini had the advantage on paper, only needing to finish 4th in the event that Lowes won the race (Although Sam only managed 2 laps in the Sunday warm-up, such was his physical state), and 8th in the event of a Marini win.

Still, like most things in the universe, it’s far easier said than done.

At the start, Marini got ahead of Gardner into Turn 1, Bastianini was eyeing off Gardner into Turn 3, but out of nowhere, Marini had to check up as he dropped the bike back to neutral, almost taking Bastianini out, and simultaneously, giving the lead back to Gardner on his outside.

After bogging down from the front row,  Di Giannantonio simply got too desperate trying to recover places into Turn 1, losing the front of the Speed Up on the inside kerb and taking himself and Nicolo Bulega out of the race, with Diggia copping a bike to the ribs as punishment, which looked really nasty on the slow-motion replay.

The irony being that they’ll be Speed Up teammates next year.

As Gardner opened up a 1.1 second gap by Lap 3, the Top 5 in the Championship were all wheel to wheel between 2nd and 6th – Bastianini, Marini, Martin, Lowes, with Bezzecchi moving up 6 places.

Marini got through on Bastianini to start Lap 4, Lowes went with him at Turn 5, and Bastianini now had to fend off Lowes’ Marc VDS teammate Augusto Fernandez, who was playing the team game.

By Lap 6, Gardner’s lead had been closed down to 6 tenths by Marini, and Fernandez made his pass on Bastianini for 4th, dropping the live title lead to 9 points, but the Beast fought back into Turn 1 on the next lap, as Jorge Navarro fell at Turn 13, and last weekend’s runner-up Hector Garzo also fell out of the race shortly after that.

That also ensured Aron Canet, regardless of finishing the race, would take out the Moto2 Rookie Of The Year award, having been 3 points ahead of Garzo before the race.

Fernandez came back for Round 2 and retook 4th again, while Marini got the slipstream on Gardner to start Lap 8 and claimed the lead, and Lowes made the Aussie lose 2 places in one corner, which further clipped the Beast’s live championship lead to 4 points, and if Lowes took the lead and Bastianini stayed 5th, the Brit would be champion on the race wins tiebreaker.

It looked like Gardner was suffering from rear grip issues, as Fernandez started eyeing off his rear wheel, and made a swooping pass at Turn 12 on Lap 9, although in hindsight, it could have been that Remy was saving himself some grip for a final shot late in the race, which is what played out.

Bezzecchi passed Bastianini on Lap 10, then Martin bumped the championship leader down to 7th, and the live lead over Marini was now down to 2 points, with Lowes only 3 down!

But, getting back on the front foot and fighting the nerves, The Beast reclaimed 6th to start Lap 11.

With a podium still on the offering, Gardner had settled back down behind Fernandez, and and completed a successful block pass into Turn 3 on Lap 12.

At half race distance, Marini had a 1.2 second lead over Lowes, and the Brit’s charge looked to be coming to an end when he went way too wide into Turn 13 + 14 (The injured hand playing up), which allowed Gardner back into 2nd place up the pit straight, and behind them, ‘Bezz’ was temporarily past Fernandez for 4th place.

Having regained 2nd, Gardner set a fastest lap on Lap 13, some 4 tenths quicker than Marini, showing the Aussie still had plenty to give in his pursuit of a maiden win, and Lowes, injured hand and all, was actually pulling out a decent gap to 4th and 5th.

Matt Birt and Steve Day were right when they mentioned that were it not for having a shot at the title, Lowes would’ve sat the weekend out because of his hand injury, which makes you think that with how well he was riding, it was actually Alex Lowes riding that Kalex….

Still locked in the fight for 6th and 7th, Martin made a mistake on Lap 14 and dropped over a second behind Bastianini, giving the championship leader the slight bit of breathing space he needed to target Fernandez in 5th.

With 6 laps to go, Gardner got a huge run on Marini out of Turn 14, but couldn’t keep the front tyre down and make use of the slip stream, Lowes appeared to lose his chance of a win when he almost had the rear snap away at Turn 13 on Lap 18, dropping him a second behind Gardner and Marini, and Bastianini put himself back ahead of Fernandez into 5th place at Turn 1, putting the title lead back to 4 points.

Still, just when you didn’t think Lowes could keep digging any deeper, he pretty much struck oil and set a new fastest lap of 1.42.560 on Lap 19!

At this point in time, the problem for Gardner was that he was so much faster than Marini through Sector 4, which meant he got too close to Marini’s rear wheel out of Turn 14 and onto the crest at the top of the pit straight, which forced him to duck out of the slip stream, allowing the Italian to maintain the lead into Turn 1.

Eventually, Gardner got his line right on Lap 21, and carried enough speed to make the move under braking at Turn 3 for the lead!

Marini tried getting it back at Turn 5, but the Aussie held on thanks to his unique braking style sending him sideways, almost wiping Marini’s front end, and with the superior edge grip and that lightning Sector 4 speed, Gardner was off and gone!

Bastianini probably didn’t know what had happened, because he was still trying to pass Bezzecchi, when his title was now pretty much in the bag.

As the final lap began, the TV Director focused on the fight for 4th and the soon to be World Champion, Gardner had raced 1.6 seconds clear of Marini, and after 96 Grand Prix starts over 6 years in the World Championship….

THE SECOND GENERATION WOOLONGONG WHIZ WAS FINALLY A GRAND PRIX WINNER!

And he got the hat-trick too – Pole Position, The Win, and the Fastest Lap!

28 years after Wayne Gardner’s final 500cc win at Donnington Park, Remy became the first Australian to win a Grand Prix in any class since Jack Miller won the 2016 Dutch TT, and only the second to win in Moto2, alongside Anthony West at Assen in 2014.

He was also the 26th winner across all 3 classes in 2020, setting a new single season record.

While Gardner and SAG Racing celebrated a breakthrough win, Enea Bastianini finished 5th, and confirmed himself as the Moto2 World Champion by only 9 points!

3 race wins, 4 more podiums, only 1 race out of the points, and the only rider to top 200 points in any of the 3 classes this year – A very worthy champion, and good luck to him in MotoGP next season.

Oddly enough, he’s the first 250cc/Moto2 Champion to not take a Pole Position since Jean-Louis Tournadre for Yamaha in 1982.


Result


This is a genuine fact – Gardner’s fastest lap of the race (1.42.504), on the final lap, on 25 lap old tyres, was faster than his Pole Position lap (1.42.594).

On a 2019 Kalex.

Awesome.

Going through the other results, Marini (Recording his first podium since Catalunya) led most the race, but just couldn’t match Gardner’s tactics and raw speed in the closing laps, Lowes pulled off one the hardest fought podium finishes he’ll ever experience, 4th through 8th were separated by only 1.1 seconds on the line, and on that note, I should acknowledge Joe Roberts coming from 18th to 7th on his last ride for American Racing.

The Californian with no relation to Kenny was roaring like Evel Knievel over Snake River Canyon in those final laps, vaulting him up to 7th in the final standings over Tetsuta Nagashima.


Post Race


Understandably, the cameras focused on Bastianini’s celebrations, but with my Australian glasses welded on, Sunday was the greatest of highs thus far on this Remy Rollercoaster, and anyone who’s followed his progress since 2015 will remember the many crushing lows all too well.

Having his Moto2 debut in 2016 delayed after his team (AGP Racing) withdrew, all the opening lap crashes, breaking both legs and an ankle in 2018, the fall at Assen in 2019 after his maiden pole position, the falls at Austria in 2019 & 2020 when he was in contention for a win, the highside in the warm-up at Misano this year when he was going to start on an inherited pole, fracturing his hand and foot and making him sit out 2 races, his bigger body (Compared to the European riders) giving him a natural disadvantage on the smaller Moto2 bikes

No longer will Remy Gardner be known as the son of MotoGP Legend Wayne Gardner….

He’ll be known as the race-winning son of MotoGP Legend Wayne Gardner!

It makes me think that between Gardner’s magnificence in Moto2, plus his 2021 teammate Raul Fernandez demolishing the field in the Moto3 race on Sunday, Aki Ajo and KTM will be loving the incoming talent they’ve got for the Intermediate class next year.

I for one, cannot wait.


Final Standings


So Bastianini was crowned the intermediate class champion for 2020 by just 9 points, Marini and Lowes were tied for 2nd on 196 points and 3 race wins, with Marini getting the runner-up place due to more 2nd place finishes (3 vs 2) than the Brit, Bezzecchi will be a Moto2 title fancy in 2021 after finishing 4th, Martin moves up to Pramac Ducati with 5th overall and 2 wins, and Gardner completes his best-ever Grand Prix season a very clear 6th, the last rider to bring up triple figures.

As previously mentioned, well done to Aron Canet on his Rookie Of The Year award (14th overall on 67 points), even after missing 3 races late in the season due to a broken finger at Le Mans.

Just as it was across all 3 classes, the title fight was full of dramatic twists and turns, but for the third time in 4 years, an Italian took the title!

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