Journey of the Jackass 2021, Chapter 2: Hot Arabian Easter Sunday Nights
After the season opening Qatar Grand Prix last weekend, it was time for the second of the Grands Prix in Losail with the ‘inaugural’ running of the Doha Grand Prix, bringing an end to a month long stay in the desert before the series heads back to a European Union currently being ripped to pieces by the Black Death.
Showcasing the one-lap speed of the Ducati around Losail, Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia and Johann Zarco led a trifecta of Bologna Bullets in the combined practice times, with Fabio Quartararo the fastest Yamaha and Jorge Martin making it all four GP21s in the Top 5, which was a good indicator of how qualifying would pan out.
Weatherwise, a sandstorm hit during FP3, pretty much wiping out the session, and the strong headwind that played a big role in last Sunday’s race struck again on Saturday night, which meant riders were setting times at least 0.5s slower than last week’s pole time by Bagnaia, and for most of Q2, Martin sat at the top of the timesheets from Aleix Espargaro on the Aprillia, thanks to picking up a slipstream on his first lap.
Things changed in the final minutes when last Sunday’s winner Maverick Vinales shot to the top by two tenths, then bettered his own time to a 1.53.267, which remained the fastest time as the chequered flag dropped, but out of nowhere, on his final lap, Zarco went top by 4-thousandths of a second, and completing the Pramac Ducati delirium, MARTIN WENT ONE BETTER AND TOOK POLE POSITION IN HIS SECOND MOTOGP RACE!
It was Pramac’s first pole position since Jack Miller at Argentina in 2018, and in scenes you had to see to believe, Paolo Campinoti swore with delight on live television, and there were pit crews from teams across all 3 categories quite literally walking out to the pit lane to congratulate the Spaniard!
The last rider to take pole in their second MotoGP race was Marc Marquez at Austin in 2013, which still stands as the record for the youngest-pole sitter (And race winner) in Premier Class history, although it still can’t beat the other Jorge (Jorge Lorenzo) claiming pole on his MotoGP debut at Qatar in 2008.
Vinales would complete the front row, with Jack Miller saving face to take 4th on his last lap, which was was described by Fabio Quartararo (5th) as the scariest thing the Frenchman had seen in his MotoGP career, thanks to a monster moment for the Queenslander at Turn 3 that was never shown on TV, and the fact that Miller actually improved his time led to Fabio complimenting Jackass on his “Big balls.”
Apparently in French, they call that Grosses Boules.
Aleix Espargaro would find himself in 7th in another fantastic punching above his weight display, Suzuki had a flat session as Alex Rins and Joan Mir (Who had to come through Q1) started back on the 3rd Row, although they were higher up on the grid than they were last week, Franco Morbidelli was only 10th, Stefan Bradl was the fastest Honda in 11th, Miguel Oliveira was the only KTM rider to appear in Q2 in either Losail race, and the biggest story of the Q1 stragglers was Valentino Rossi starting from 21st, the worst starting position for The Doctor in his 25-year career.
At some point in time, someone at Yamaha is just going to have to call a spade a spade and shoot Bambi.
Race (22 Laps)
Paolo Campinoti’s Pramac Racing joined the World Championship with an old NSR 500 Honda in 2002, and in that time, a race win has always eluded them; Toni Elias was 2nd at Misano in 2008, Danilo Petrucci racked up four second-place finishes during his stint with the team (2015-18), and Jack Miller finished 2nd three times in 2020, with two of them being decided in last lap thrillers, and we can’t forget Pecco Bagnaia crashing out from the lead at Misano last season.
The only certainty on the opening lap was that a Ducati would lead into Turn 1 with how powerful their holeshot device is, and when the lights went out, Martin and Zarco comfortably kept 1st and 2nd, there was a mad fight for 3rd between the factory Yamahas, the Suzukis and Aleix Espargaro, while Miguel Oliveira followed Martin’s inside path from last Sunday and went from 12th to 4th, despite starting on the Medium front tyre!
As the riders settled into an order, the Aprilia of Espargaro sat 3rd ahead of the Suzukis of Rins and Mir, Oliveira was 6th, while the four factory Yamahas and Ducati riders all had poor starts to complete the Top 10, with the worst start of all being Bradl on the factory Honda, who initially had a great getaway, then second-guessed himself into thinking he’d jumped the start and dropped like a stone to 18th.
The first piece of on-track action came when Mir fired a pass on Quartararo at the Turn 6 hairpin on Lap 2, but went in way too hot and speared himself and the Frenchman wide, costing Fabio a spot to Miller.
That wasn’t the first time Mir made an aggressive move on Sunday night.
Aleix soon tired a move on Zarco for 2nd place, but it didn’t stick and the Aprilia lost a spot to Rins in an exchange for 3rd place, and on Lap 4, Rins was lining up Zarco at Turn 15, but the slipstream got Zarco back ahead into Turn 1, but the Suzuki’s cornering advantage got Rins back ahead after a few more attempts.
Eventually, Oliveira began to fade back through the field, which was to be expected given KTM’s discomfort with Losail, falling out of the Top 10 by Lap 8 to sit just behind teammate Brad Binder, and with the wind dying down, Bagnaia in 6th place lowered the Losail lap record (1.54.491s, beating Vinales’ 1.54.624 from last week) after picking up the slipstream when he passed Mir for 5th, which would remain the fastest lap of the race.
Approaching half-race distance, Martin still led from Rins, who was beginning to pressure the Ducati into burning up his tyres, but Zarco consistently used the Ducati’s straight line speed to start the lap ahead of the Suzuki, which allowed his teammate to create a small gap, and just showing the parity across the premier class machines, the Top 15 were split by only 5 seconds!
The next highlight came at the end of Lap 10, when Aleix Espargaro was passed by Pecco out of the final corner, allowing Mir to range up on the pit straight, but neither of them would be in 5th come Turn 1, because Miller rocketed past them both!
Vinales was now the fastest rider on the circuit in 9th place, but he couldn’t find a way past Quartararo, which was putting paid to Maverick’s chances of going back to back in Losail, and as fate would have it, ‘El Diablo’ would be the factory Yamaha to have the final say in this tale.
In a hair-raising moment for Suzuki, Rins lost the front at Turn 9 after clipping the inside kerb, but somehow kept the bike upright, but that was the first sign of his race win hopes starting to end, as Bagnaia passed the Spaniard and made it a Ducati 1-2-3 on Lap 13, as the Yamahas
That same lap, Mir got desperate and fired up the inside of Miller at Turn 10, but the gap was always going to diminish, and the result was Mir hit Miller’s left leg with his front tyre, unsettling the Ducati and taking 5th place, as Mir gave some half-arsed apology by sticking out his leg, but the move was completed nonetheless.
Then the second part of this swinging handbags affair was when Mir (Seconds after Rins went wide behind Pecco) went wide out of Turn 16, while Miller held his normal racing line, both of them had no incentive to yield, and the end result was a fairly major piece of contact at high speed that cost both riders places and momentum, as a frustrated Jackass exchanged words with the defending World Champion.
Having better camera angles than most irate fans, Race Direction deemed both incidents to be racing incidents, although I have seen some nuffies claim Miller was head hunting Mir in revenge for the previous hit and should’ve been black flagged, because Spaniards produce excrement that smells of pure lavender and can do no wrong.
Moving on, this was also around the time where Alex Marquez and Iker Lecuona became the first 2 casualties of the race, having been nothing short of irrelevant throughout the evening, with Marquez making it consecutive falls to begin life at LCR Honda.
Quartararo was now looming into the race, having risen to 5th with plenty of tyre life still in hand and lapping much faster than the Ducatis, and further down, Pol Espargaro had risen quietly up to 10th place, and with only 5 laps to go, the margin from the race leader to Miguel Oliveira in 15th was only 5.3 seconds, which was well on course to shatter the closest Top 15 finishers in history, which was 15.093s in Qatar in 2019.
While Martin still led come Lap 16, Fabio picked up Rins and Bagnaia to move into 3rd by the end of the lap, Miller and Vinales picked up Aleix Espargaro, but Pecco got back in front of the Yamaha down the pit straight, but coughed it back up when he had to run wide to avoid hitting Zarco, dropping down to 7th, while Pol Espargaro joined him in sympathy and fell back to 13th behind Morbidelli, ending Pol’s hopes of recovering a Top 10 result for Honda.
On Lap 18, Quartararo made his move – First, he passed Zarco at Turn 10, and after setting himself up on the outside at 14, El Diablo took the lead, displacing Martin from 1st for the first time all night, and with Vinales all over Zarco, it looked like it was going to be a factory Yamaha 1-2!
As expected, Martin blasted back ahead down the pit straight, but the grip advantage and the superior corner speed had the Yamaha ahead for good at Turn 4.
As the race went longer the Top 10 get even tighter, with 10 bikes covered by 2 seconds, as Vinales moved past Zarco at Turn 10, and it looked like Top Gun was going to have Martin for dinner to give himself a shot at hunting down his teammate, but Vinales’ hopes of a win disappeared when he went wide at the final turn to end Lap 19, giving 3rd place back to Zarco.
With Fabio off and gone to give Monster Yamaha their second win in 7 days, Martin was still hanging on to 2nd place, Zarco was a rolling roadblock for Vinales, who also had to contend with a track limits warning and the still-present Suzuki of Rins, and Bagnaia passed Miller for 6th in the factory Ducati battle.
On the final lap, Rins got ahead of Vinales, but all eyes were on the Pramac Ducati podium tussle, as Zarco loomed like Jaws on an unsuspecting swimmer, and timed his move on Martin perfectly by waiting until the sweeping left-hander at Turn 15 to take 2nd place from his rookie teammate, but all honours went to Fabio Quartararo, who had his first win for the factory Yamaha team, in what was a French 1-2 in Losail!
It was the first time since the 1954 500cc French Grand Prix that two French riders have stood on the same premier class podium – On that occasion, Pierre Monneret won the race, and Jacques Collot was 3rd.
Adding to the French flavour Zarco leads the Championship thanks to his pair of 2nd place finishes (40 points), Jorge Martin rode a fantastic 3rd place for his maiden MotoGP podium, Rins would hold on to 4th from Vinales, Bagnaia was a clear 6th, while finishing off the Top 10, Mir got past the ailing Miller on the final lap, who dropped another spot to Binder in the final sector, and only just finished in 9th for the second race running, this time ahead of Aleix Espargaro by 0.017s, as the points finishers were covered by only 8.928s, bettering the old record of the closest Top 15 finish by some 6 seconds.
Say, I feel a song coming on for Jack…
Finally on that Miller vs Mir catfight, I like how Joan is somehow now painting himself as the victim of some egregious move by Miller, when it was Mir who made a stupid audacious pass that ended with him running his front tyre into Miller’s leg and gaining a place as a result, to which he made a half-arsed apology and never redressed the place (Although to be fair, he never had to), then he went wide out of Turn 16 and just expected the next bike coming through to ease over for him as he returned to the track because he’s the World Champion, only to get a taste of own medicine when Miller gave it right back.
There’s no victims in this argument, and the only fortunate part is that both of them are still alive to piss and whinge about it, and the fact that Suzuki won’t lodge an appeal about Miller’s actions to the FIM should tell the story to our friends in the Old World complaining about Miller not getting a black flag.
And the funnier part was, Miller and Mir wasn’t even the biggest blow-up on Sunday, considering what happened in the Moto3 race between John ‘Bruce Lee’ McPhee and Jeremy Alcoba.
Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster
After kicking off his season with a fine 2nd place behind Sam Lowes last weekend, Remy Gardner was back alongside the early championship favourite on Saturday evening, who made it back-to-back poles to start 2021, and the Italian Marco Bezzecchi completed the front row, and by some minor coincidence, the 3 riders who most two-wheeled pundits have predicted to challenge for the Moto2 title were heading the field, with Raul Fernandez impressing again to start 4th.
Early on into the season, the big 3 of Lowes, Gardner and Bezzecchi are going to be the standouts, especially in Losail where we’ve been racing and testing for the best part of a month, but that gap will close up as the season goes on.
Race (20 laps)
No rider had won the first 2 races from pole in the Moto2 era, but with the gap the Top 4 riders had on the rest of the field, Lowes was a serious chance.
At the start, Gardner initially got the better jump than Lowes, but his heavier frame bogged him down, and it was actually Marco Bezzecchi who got the holeshot off the line and took the lead from Lowes, Gardner and Raul Fernandez, who passed Gardner with the slipstream to end the opening lap.
Bezzecchi led the first 3 laps, but Lowes made the move on Lap 4, which forced Gardner to make a move on Fernandez that very nearly ended in tears when Gardner had a wobble and missed Bezzecchi’s rear tyre, but the move worked.
A notable faller was the other Brit Jake Dixon, who had fallen from 5th to 16th.
Gardner and Fernandez used the slipstream to pass Bezzecchi on Lap 6, and compared to last week, when the Lowes lead was 1.5 seconds by the time Gardner reached 2nd place, the gap was only 4-tenths, which meant Sammy the soap dodger would be under a bit more pressure.
Shortly after Gardner’s move, the first casualty of the race was Evel Knievel’s descendant Joe Roberts, who crashed out from 5th on Lap 7 at Turn 14, which almost took Ai Ogura with him, who dropped a place running wide to avoid the carnage, but otherwise escaped unscathed.
Out in front, Lowes looked much more uncomfortable with Gardner directly behind him, sliding the front end through corners consistently, but in a show of strength, Lowes never dropped out of the lead and kept setting fastest times to boot, and Gardner always had the threat of Fernandez ready to pull a move the moment the Aussie made an error.
Halfway through the race, the ball was still firmly in the court of the Red Bull KTM Ajo bikes, as rookie Cameron Beaubier made it both Americans out of the race when he fell at Turn 8 on Lap 9.
The Top 4 maintained a settled rhythm, while most of the action focused on the pack between 5th and 13th, as last week’s 3rd placed rider Fabio Di Giannantonio found himself up to 5th place, while veteran Tom Luthi crashed at Turn 2 on Lap 13, right as Lowes set another fastest lap.
Ending his disaster of a Sunday, Dixon collided with Marcel Schrotter collided at Turn 14 and fell out of the race on Lap 13, with Dixon in some discomfort as he was helped away by the track marshals.
Approaching the final handful of laps remaining, Lowes was starting to stretch his gap to Gardner and Fernandez to 0.385s, with Bezzecchi dropping back into a clear 4th place, 1.5s behind Fernandez, although Marco had a massive 8.7 second gap back to Stefano Manzi leading the peloton.
With the gap growing by the lap, Gardner got the call to go from the pit wall, and duly responded on Lap 15 with the fastest lap, sparking an intense final 5 laps of what could be appropriately described as the two-wheeled Ashes, as Fernandez accepted that 3rd place would be the best he could achieve on Sunday.
After running in the Top 10 for portions of the race, Aron Canet fell out of the race at Turn 16 on Lap 15, as Gardner made sure he was doing absolutely everything he could to keep the pressure on by punching in consecutive 1.59.1s laps, but Lowes was taking all the blows like a boxer with a padded brain, and just to show Remy he was still upright, Lowes posted the fastest lap of the race on Lap 18!
Not to be outdone, Gardner posted a new fastest lap of 1.58.991 on the penultimate lap to decrease the gap to 0.2.s as the riders began the 20th and final lap, and through a stern test of nerve, Gardner lined himself up for a last gasp lunge through the final sector, but he put a wheel off the track limits at 14 and didn’t want to risk Race Control stepping in, so he tried one final lunge out of Turn 16, but he went too deep, had a twitch and lost drive, and that made the difference in the run to the line:
So that was that, as Sam Lowes made it two wins from two races in Qatar to begin 2021, to cap off one of the best Moto2 battles in recent years, Lowes and Gardner set the fastest 2 laps of the race on the last lap!
Quite simply, Sam and Remy were on another astral plain to everyone else on Sunday evening, especially from a mental standpoint to not make any errors, and it was nice to see them both acknowledge that fact after the race:
Oddly enough, Gardner’s final lap was a 1.58.936, but the official record will show that Lowes recorded the fastest lap of the race with a 1.58.954 as he reached the chequered flag first, which by definition gave him the hat-trick of pole position, the fastest lap and the race win!
In amidst all this, I shouldn’t forget Raul Fernandez reaching his first intermediate podium at only his second intermediate race start, which might just tell us that Aki Ajo has picked himself another fantastic talent from the junior ranks, Marco Bezzecchi was a clear 4th, and 10 seconds back from the Italian, and another rookie in Ai Ogura was a fine 5th.
A fantastic performance in defeat from the son of the Wollongong Whiz, who left absolutely nothing in the locker fighting for the win, but at the end of the day, Sam Lowes, twin brother of Alex, was nigh on flawless to open his account with 2 wins from 2 races, and in one for the history books, the last time a British rider had won the opening 2 races of the intermediate season was MotoGP Legend Mike ‘The Bike’ Hailwood in 1966!
A fantastic week of action in the intermediates, and hopefully Portugal is just as good.
Next up: Portugal in a fortnight!