While the world of motorcycle racing is still buzzing with the outcome of the MotoGP race at Aragon, it is easy to overlook a couple of exciting and important races in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. In both cases, the championship leaders came to Aragon with the chance to put one hand on the title, and in both cases, they leave Europe empty handed, having failed to capitalize on the opportunities which presented themselves. The races also provided a couple of extremely deserving winners capping great battles in both classes.
The Moto3 race turned out to be the thriller everyone expected. A modest (by Moto3 standards) group made the break, Miguel Oliveira taking the initiative and the lead. He was joined naturally enough by the two rivals for the title, Enea Bastianini trying to push forward as much as possible, Danny Kent keeping a wary eye on Bastianini. Brad Binder tagged along at the back, while a strong start from Romano Fenati took him from his usual poor qualifying position to the fight at the front. Efren Vazquez was in the fray, as were Niccolo Antonelli and Jorge Navarro, both looking very strong. Jorge Martin impressed in the group, putting the Mahindra right in among the leaders.
It was Oliveira who was clearly the strongest, leading for most of the race. Behind him, Fenati came and went, but all eyes were on Bastianini and Kent. Bastianini tried to attack early, but the Portuguese rider had the measure of him. Having waited for the first few laps, Kent came on strong from quarter distance, actively attacking Oliveira for the lead. He could get ahead of Oliveira on occasion, but he could not make a break.
It was clear the race would come down to the final lap, but nobody could have guessed how it played out. Brad Binder had broken his bad habit of previous races of pushing too hard too early, and was poised to attack as they approached the back straight. "I have a problem in races that I keep burning my tires, so I just sat with the guys for the whole race, waited till three laps to go and then started to push. Obviously it pretty much worked," Binder told me. "What I wanted to do was wait and then pass Miguel down the straight, because if you go onto the back straight without a slipstream anybody can pass you. I was so sure that I had timed it perfectly."
The only error in Binder's calculation was that he had not taken the impetuousness of Enea Bastianini into account. The Italian overshot his brake marker, clipped Binder's rear wheel, and took the pair of them down. Bastianini's first reaction was that of most any ambitious young motorcycle racer: to blame Brad Binder for the incident, whatever the facts of the situation. After about 30 seconds, though, the Italian was back talking to Binder, this time offering his apologies. Binder was frustrated, but phlegmatic. "It's a part of racing. It happens." The South African was still annoyed, though, as he was sure he had his first win in sight.
Bastianini's mistake put Danny Kent in an extremely luxurious position, and one he had hardly dared imagine after the first day of practice. On Friday, Kent had been complaining of a lack of confidence in the front end, and he felt he was down on speed. A little overnight magic – I say magic, but in reality, it is just the combination of careful analysis, imaginative thinking and solid calculation – restored Kent's confidence in the front, and eked out a couple more km/h down the back straight. Kent went into the race knowing he could beat Bastianini. Yet when he had the chance to, he didn't.
After the Italian crashed out in front of him, Kent was left chasing Jorge Navarro down the back straight, and lining up to take second from the Spaniard. But instead of concentrating on his own line, Kent looked across at Navarro. That is something you simply cannot do in Aragon's final corner, a turn taken at full lean. The rear came round on him and spat him off, Kent crashing out without any points. "I didn't take a massive risk to try and pass Navarro on the last lap because his corner speed wasn't as fast in the last corner and as I looked over to him the rear came around from underneath me and it threw me off," Kent said afterwards, standing in his garage. "I wasn't on the limit when I was trying to pass Navarro because his corner speed wasn't that impressive at that corner so I wasn't trying to take a big risk. I didn't think that I was taking a big risk and the rear just stepped out and I crashed. It's all a part of racing."
Speaking after the Moto3 press conference, Miguel Oliveira had a slightly different view. He began by pointing out that he had only seen the incident once, and had not given it the consideration it deserved. But the cause was simply Kent moving on the bike when he shouldn't. "When he looked to the side, he lost his balance a little bit," Oliveira said. "In this corner, especially on these bikes, you are running on very thin tires. Just a slight movement and it is over. I thought that when he looked to the side, he put his weight a little bit more in the center. And this of course loads the tire more."
Kent was resigned after the race, as were most of his team. They had lost the chance to put a bunch of points on Bastianini, but on the other hand, they hadn't lost any points either. The gap is still 55 points, but the Italian now has just four races to make up that gap, and not five. Kent had crashed, but he was not hurt. More importantly, however, he had ridden good race before the crash, and the team had given him the bike he needed to be competitive. Heading to Motegi, scene of Kent's first ever victory and a track he has always excelled at, the Englishman's confidence remains high.
Kent may have crashed out, but he was never going to touch Miguel Oliveira. The Portuguese rider took his third career win, and his third win of the year, in convincing style. Oliveira is an example of what happens when a rider gets the monkey of his first win off his back, the Red Bull KTM rider now very strong every weekend. It was an impressive performance by him, but also by the man in second, Jorge Navarro. Navarro has proved to be a real threat in 2015, and promises to be a genuine candidate for the title in 2016.
The Moto2 race may not have been as intense as Moto3, but it was still more than worthwhile watching. A crash on lap two involving Xavier Simeon and Dominique Aegerter caused the race to be red flagged. Aegerter was pretty badly beaten up, suffering minor fractures in four vertebra, a broken rib, a couple of broken bones in hand and forearm, along with scrapes and bruises. The incident basically put Aegerter out for the rest of the season, though he will make a full recovery.
The restart came as an annoyance for Alex Rins and Sam Lowes. The pair had just started to make a break, having rid themselves of both Johann Zarco and Tito Rabat. The restart was not so successful, Rins getting the jump and Rabat following in his wake. Lowes followed at first, but had to let the leaders go, riding to a safe third place completely unchallenged.
The battle between Rabat and Rins was tense though not thrilling. Rabat caught Rins early, then got past on lap seven, diving underneath at the first corner. It was then Rabat's turn to try to put time into Rins, something which Rins was not going to allow to happen. The reigning champion pushed, but his lead never grew beyond four tenths. As the laps ticked down, Rins reeled Rabat back in, and got ready to launch an attack. He got past, but Rabat had seen that Rins had a tire problem, and knew he could prevail in the end. Rins's attempt at victory came up just a few hundredths short, Rabat holding on at the end.
The victory meant a lot to Tito Rabat, the Marc VDS rider having worked hard all weekend to create an advantage. It is also his best and only chance of preventing Johann Zarco from taking his title, putting a big chunk of points into the Frenchman. Zarco still leads, but the gap has been cut from 93 to 78 points. A massive advantage, but it is likely to delay Zarco's claiming of the title for at least an extra race.
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