Unsurprisingly, most of the attention this weekend went to the intrigues and infighting which characterized the MotoGP class. But while all eyes were on MotoGP, there were a couple of support races going on, and there was plenty to talk about in those classes as well.
The least interesting, or rather, the least surprising, was Nico Terol's crushing victory in the 125cc class, the Bankia Aspar rider's third win in a row in the third race of the season. To say that Terol is dominating the season would be like suggesting that Osama bin Laden was not generally regarded as having liberal views on religious tolerance. The Spaniard has rarely been off the top of the timesheets this year, commonly topping practice by as much as a second. The races have been even more blatantly unbalanced, Terol usually backing off with a comfortable lead after just one-third distance.
But as brilliant as Terol has been - and the Bankia Aspar man has been flawless so far in 2011 - part of his domination must be put down to the weakness of the current 125cc crop. His direct challengers are either second-stringers who have failed to move up to Moto2 yet such as Sandro Cortese and Efren Vazquez, washed-up returnees who failed dismally in Moto2 such as Sergio Gadea and Hector Faubel, or raw young talent at the very start of their careers, such as Miguel Oliveira and Maverick Viñales. Terol is almost certain to go on and take the title this season, winning 12 or more of the 17 (or more likely, 16, once Motegi is officially canceled) races this year. A bumper haul such as that may be necessary if he is to be considered for promotion to the Moto2 class next season.
That Moto2 class is endowed with rather more talent than 125s, and that is both its blessing and its curse. Where a good rider in 125s might hope to be regularly in the top 10, such is the fierceness of competition in Moto2 that they might be lucky to get a sniff of the points on a regular basis. With 40 riders on the grid, the difference between success and failure is terrifyingly small, a few tenths being the difference between starting in the front couple of rows or having 15+ riders in front of you.
With competition so stiff, riders who might otherwise expect success almost by right are finding themselves struggling to get into the points. And in their search for an explanation for the fractions of a second they are missing, their attention has naturally turned to their choice of chassis, and the support they are getting. There have been muted rumblings of discontent from several of the Suter-shod teams, especially from the vicinity of the Marc VDS Racing garage, though the team are keen to deny they have any intention of swapping chassis at any point this season. But at Estoril, in an interview with Spanish magazine Motociclismo, Kenan Sofuoglu threw Suter to the wolves, using very strong language to express his discontent.
While there may be some validity to at least some of Sofuoglu's criticism, the biggest problem with the Suter chassis is that they have been the victims of their own success. Over the winter, Suter did a brilliant job of persuaidng the top title prospects to use their chassis, but now that tactic has backfired somewhat. With Julian Simon, Kenan Sofuoglu, Marc Marquez, Scott Redding, Thomas Luthi and Andrea Iannone on the Suter, there was always going to be some dissent. Whoever happens to be winning on the chassis, the others were always going to blame Suter (rather than themselves or their teams) for their own lack of results, justly or unjustly.
For there is nothing much wrong with the Suter chassis, as Iannone's victory at Jerez and a bucketload of podiums would appear to attest. But rumors of favoritism and gossip among the teams of who is using which chassis (the 2010 or 2011 versions) are souring the atmosphere in the Moto2 class.
Before the season began, Marc Marquez had stunned the Moto2 class by jumping off his 125cc championship winning Derbi and blowing the field away on the Suter. But the Spaniard's success has raised unreasonable expectations, not least from Marquez himself. Marquez is strung as tightly as a deckhand on shore leave, growing ever more frustrated as his dry spell between wins continues. Right now, the Catalunya Caixa rider is his own worst enemy, managing to take himself out of two of the three races so far, and getting a little help to crash out of the third. Once Marquez gets a couple of solid finishes under his belt, he should be back at the front.
The rider generating the most excitement in the Moto2 class this year has surely been Andrea Iannone. Much of that is down to the Italian's inexplicable failure to qualify well, Iannone giving himself a huge amount of work to do off the line in every race so far. It is work that he is extremely well suited to, however, as his win at Jerez and podium at Qatar would appear to attest. Iannone looked like being on course for another victory, after blasting through the field from 14th on the grid to lead the race. Iannone's pace was simply incredible, at least half a second and often eight tenths of a second faster than the rest of the field, the Speed Master rider slicing past the competition as if they were not there. But once he took the lead, Iannone threw it all away, dropping the bike on the way into Estoril's tight chicane, remounting, but only making it up to 13th. If Iannone could improve his qualifying, then the Italian could make the Moto2 races as dull a spectacle as the 125s have been this year.
Though assisted by the mistakes of others - most notably, Thomas Luthi and Andrea Iannone making an uncharacteristic and typical mistake respectively - Stefan Bradl leads the Moto2 championship by being a model of calm consistency. Everything is going to plan for the German, with the Kalex chassis working very much as hoped. Two wins from three races is a strong basis to start the season on, and Bradl has looked dangerous at every single track in 2011.
The Kalex chassis is not the only German chassis on the grid, of course, though the MZ team have swapped their own steel trellis frame, designed by Martin Wimmer, for an aluminum twin spar chassis built by another East German manufacturer. While Max Neukirchner continues on the 2010 FTR chassis that his side of the garage purchased while waiting for the trellis frame to be developed sufficiently, Ant West has switched over to a chassis made by IAMT. The chassis has already been raced in the Spanish championship, and West tested the bike at Jerez and immediately pronounced himself happy with the new chassis. Estoril was a different story, the bumpy track revealing a host of problems that the smooth surface at Jerez had masked, but West and his team are hoping that a revised linkage and some suspension modifications will finally make the Australian as competitive as he and his many fans believe he can be. Though the debut on the IAMT chassis was pretty miserable in terms of results, the atmosphere in that garage has turned around completely. West just might be a dark horse a little later in the season, and not just when it rains.
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