VR46 Academy On Top Of The World
As days go, Sunday was just about perfect for the VR46 Academy. Franco Morbidelli became its first ever MotoGP race winner, Francesco Bagnaia backed him up in second and Sky Racing VR46’s Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi scored a fairly comprehensive one-two in the earlier Moto2 outing.
All four are supremely talented riders. But the countless hours of testing at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli begged the question: should riders be limited in terms of how often they test at one of the tracks on the MotoGP calendar?
Such track experience was even more crucial this year as the track was resurfaced in March. Despite much improved grip levels, bumps all around the track remained. On Sunday Jack Miller noted, “It makes me worry and I said it also in the Safety Commission on Friday afternoon, 'if you guys knew the track was this bumpy, nobody said a single thing leading up to this. You guys are riding here once a month a least'. Anyway it just shows practice can help I think.”
So should the Academy members be limited to just how often they can test here? “You're never going to control this,” Miller said. “Let's say I can't get on Phillip Island once a month. I have to go and ride at places like Alcarras and stuff like that. They are the only places we can get onto. But it is what it is. All power to them. It's the novelty of being in that program I guess. We can't change it I don’t think. If they are going to ban all testing I think that's stupid as well. If guys can do that sort of thing, lucky them.”
Marini’s second win of the year was only in doubt after a braking mistake at turn 14 allowed Bezzecchi to close in. An inter-team brawl then ensued, leaving Valentino Rossi biting his fingernails in pitlane. “It’s difficult to manage with the head when Luca and Bez fight like this,” said the 41-year old.
But Marini eventually broke clear to extend his lead in the championship to 17 points. “To explain our feelings in this moment is not easy,” he said. “It’s our home GP. We live 10km from here. It’s a great place for both of us. The last lap I pushed really hard and the feeling was great. There were a lot of people there. It was a better feeling than the last win in Jerez. This is the great part of our job.”
Bastianini: a MotoGP star-in-waiting?
When a double-Moto2 World Champion has his say, you best listen. While awaiting confirmation of his own whereabouts for 2021, Johann Zarco had little doubt as to the ability of the man who will replace him.
Two-time Moto2 race winner Enea Bastianini has signed with Ducati to become a MotoGP rider next year. According to Esponsorama Racing’s team boss Ruben Xaus, he is “99% sure that Bastianini will join us next year.”
“For Bastianini, the way he won races in Moto2, I have been very impressed by him,” Zarco said. “I think he will understand the MotoGP™ bike because he has this talent from Moto3 that he was fast. He didn’t take too much time to be fast, then in Moto2 it seems a bit more complicated but you can see when he is feeling good he has even more confidence. It is not easy to have this step but he has impressed, he will understand the MotoGP [bike].”
Zarco isn’t wrong. Despite never quite living up to his billing in Moto3, Bastianini’s talent is without question. It took him just seven races as a full- fledged world championship rider to first stand on a Moto3 podium in 2014. His adaption to Moto2 was equally rapid, scoring top six finishes within six races. “For me it’s really important to be with Ducati next year,” said the Italian. “It’s a big family. It’s an Italian bike and it will be possible to be fast also in MotoGP.”
Even more impressive than his excellent third place in Sunday’s race was Bastianini’s remarkable front-end save at turn eight. There were echoes of Marc Marquez as the Italian picked his Italtrans Kalex up on his left elbow. “I study Marc a little bit in these last years because he’s saved many times the bike. Today the same thing happened to me. It was really nice to save the bike on my elbow,” he recalled just after.
Talk about an action-packed week for Remy Gardner. In light of pole sitter Sam Lowes’ pitlane penalty, the Australian was poised to start from the front of the grid and had pace to match the Sky Racing VR46 teamsters. Then he was spat off his machine at terrifying speed through Curvone in morning warm-up. “It was a bit of a heart-breaker last weekend,” he recalled. “I remember going up in the air at 260kph and seeing the bike down there on the ground and I said, “I guess this is it!”
Despite being ruled out of this week, it wasn’t all bad. On Wednesday it was confirmed the Australian would be moving to Aki Ajo’s Red Bull-backed KTM Moto2 team in 2021, a step up from his current Onexox SAG Racing Team. Gardner has stepped away from Wasserman’s Bob Moore and is currently operating without a personal manager. Ajo has been helping in an advisory role in the meantime.
“I’ve been in discussions with Aki for a while now,” Gardner told Motomatters.com. “He’s been helping me a bit during the weekends. I did want to go to MotoGP at the beginning of the year but talking to Aki, he gave me some good pointers and I think we can learn even more in Moto2 and try and win the championship. I don’t think there is a better team to do it with.”
Gardner also revealed it’s a one year plus one deal. Perform in 2021 and a KTM MotoGP seat could be the reward. “The main objective for the moment is next year. We want to have a really good season in Moto2. But there is definitely an option there with KTM to step up. They said they really believe in me and that’s where they’d like to see me. But first the work has to be done in Moto2. We need to some good races first. The KTM option for MotoGP could be an awesome step up. I definitely believe in their project.”
Ai On The Prize
22 years have passed since a Japanese rider succeeded in Grand Prix’s junior category. With the likes of Kazuto Sakata, Haruchika Aoki, Noboru Ueda, Masao Azuma, Tomomi Manako and Youichi Ui regularly winning races and fighting (and winning) championships, Japan dominated the 125cc class at times in the mid-late nineties. The same can’t quite be said of Moto3 at the moment. But with Ai Ogura, Tatsuki Suzuki and Ayumu Sasaki showing well, Japan is flourishing once more as a Grand Prix force.
Perhaps more than the others, Ogura is the rider who stands out. In just his second season on the world stage, the 19-year old looks like a potential world champion. Albert Arenas’ crash and the Tokyo rider’s second place has put him within five points of the championship lead after another deeply impressive weekend. That’s five podiums from seven starts for Ogura (his other results were fourth and a crash when he was wiped out when showing race winning potential.)
“Ai is a special rider," said Hiroshi Aoyama, team boss for Ogura's Honda Team Asia. "He has a really quiet personality. Even for a Japanese he’s a quiet person, which is good. But inside he has a really strong (focus) on his target. He always wants to win races. This is very important. His riding skill is as good as the others, maybe more. At this stage he’s still learning. We cannot forget this is just his second year in the World Championship. He still needs more experience. He is answering to us giving him support. We’re in a good situation right now.”
Binder signed, McPhee where?
To all involved in the sport, Petronas Sprinta’s signing of Darryn Binder for its assault on the 2021 Moto3 title is an interesting proposition. As team boss Johan Stigefelt said, “he’s an aggressive, talented, good rider, especially on race day.” Under the close supervision of the Petronas structure, the younger Binder brother should find himself in a structure capable of bringing out some consistency.
But where does that leave John McPhee? The Scot, whose brilliant race win on Sunday catapulted him back into the Moto3 title race, has been clear in stating his desire to step up to Moto2. He was, in fact, close to doing so for 2020 but uncertainty over whether the team could secure a second grid slot for Moto2, as well as the chance to remain with the same bike and crew for a second season, kept him where he is.
"There are a couple of different clauses. It doesn’t say if you are 'whatever' by 'whatever' race, but the way it's worded is that the intention is to go to Moto2,” McPhee told us last August. “Johan Stigefelt is a fantastic guy and very fair so the long and short of it is, if I perform, I'll go. lf I'm not performing, I won't be there. If I'm always in the fight and getting on the podium frequently, then hopefully I'll have that [Moto2] opportunity."
Now just 14 points off the title lead, McPhee is holding up his side of the agreement. But as the form of Petronas’ Moto2 riders Xavi Vierge and Jake Dixon has improved dramatically in recent weeks, it remains to be seen whether there will be space to accommodate John. The Scot is still eager to step up in 2021 even if that means moving to another team.
“Obviously my ambition as a rider is to go to Moto2 next year,” he said on Sunday after his third Moto3 victory. “Honestly, it’s too early to say. We don’t know where we’re at with it. If there’s an opportunity to go to Moto2 with the Petronas team that would be my dream. But one way or another we have a job to do. In this class I’ll focus on that and if the results come we should get a chance, whether it’s with Petronas or whether it’s with another team to make that step.”
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