After a dramatic weekend, we look at some of the big stories coming out of the Spanish Grand Prix in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes.
Acosta: Another box ticked
Forget last lap scraps, or pitlane penalties. The true test of Pedro Acosta’s mettle was to gauge the 16-year old’s reaction to the pre-event press conference at Jerez. There, Acosta sat among the MotoGP field. He looked on boyishly as Marc Marquez, Joan Mir and Fabio Quartararo opined on his talent, his potential, and his future plans.
One of the more outlandish questions was whether Acosta would benefit from skipping Moto2 altogether, and jumping straight to MotoGP in the near future. Fabio Quartararo was the voice of reason on this occasion, offering a timely reminder “Come on guys, he’s only 16.”
That aside, this was a love-in. Never more so than when the considered Franco Morbidelli gave his opinion. “Keeping the feet on the ground is important. But Pedro has something different. We’ve never seen something like this. I’ve watched races since I was a kid. He’s 16 but he doesn’t look 16. He looks like a really focussed guy. He’s not here to play too much.”
That much is true. Aside from a slight wobble on Saturday – he found himself in Q1 – Acosta passed this latest test of his focus with flying colours. There is always a danger of bigging up a rider too early in their development. But the Murciano wears the swagger of a man who expects the result to be a mere formality. It’s not often you see that in this sport, never mind from a 16-year old sporting braces.
He doesn’t get caught up in the hype, either. At least he hasn’t yet. Asked if it was difficult to maintain focus after Thursday’s love-in, he shrugged all the attention off, mentioning his only worry was a less than stellar record at this track. “After Qatar, I remember that I deleted Instagram and everything like this to be focussed,” he said. “(But) It isn’t difficult. I know on Thursday that here was a bad track for me. But I finished.” It’s clear Acosta isn’t your regular teenager.
As was mentioned in Portimão, this felt like his finest victory yet. He wasn’t the fastest rider. “(Deniz) Öncü and Romano (Fenati) had the best pace of the race,” he said. Nor did he feel Jerez’ compact layout was best for his machine or riding style. And the words of team boss Aki Ajo’s were still ringing in his ears after the race had finished.
“Finally, here in Jerez normally I have some difficult points to take the pace,” he said. “The team worked so hard to give me the best bike they could. Aki told me before the race: ‘Mate, if we can win, do it. If not, be careful and take some points.’ The only thing the team told me was ‘Enjoy’. When you have fun, everything comes easier. The last lap was difficult. But we are here.”
Despite Ajo’s advice, Acosta was prepared to risk it all on the final lap. Again, his late-braking feats made the difference, as he sized up Öncü and Jaume Masia ahead before executing a brilliant two-in-one-move at the Dani Pedrosa Corner. “We are strong in braking,” he said of his feats. Here, it’s a difficult track to brake hard. Here I always have problems to be competitive. We have to improve the exit of the corners. On the last lap I saw Jaume and Öncü were so close on the line. I thought if I had to hit someone, I’m going to hit them. It finished well (even if) it wasn’t a plan.”
He made history here. No rider in grand prix’s 72-year history has ever stood on the podium in each of their first four races. Morbidelli was right. We’ve never seen something like this. It was here that Acosta demonstrated he has the intelligence and maturity to take this global attention in his stride off the bike to go with his mesmeric talent on it. As it stands, no one in Moto3 can live with that potent combination.
History told us the afternoon’s Moto2 outing would be no thriller. Aside from the class’ first running at Jerez in 2010, any race that has gone full distance since has been processional. With that in mind, the start and early laps were crucial. Fabio Di Giannantonio got it right, claiming a lap one advantage, and carried it to the flag. The Italian was untouchable, stretching his lead out to 1.5s by lap six, 2.6s by lap eight, for a maiden Moto2 triumph.
In truth, his first victory in the class would have come sooner, but for some crucial spills when leading last year. As he said, “It’s been two years I’ve tried to win in Moto2 but something always happened.” The difference here? A change in setting that gave the 23-year old more confidence in Jerez’ number heavy braking zones, a glaring weakness in Portugal. That and work with Team Gresini’s rider coach Manuel Poggiali on how to best attack this track.
“The bike is exactly the same as FP1,” explained Di Giannantonio. “We didn’t change anything. We changed something from the last races because we had some troubles. I worked with Manuel Poggiali to do good lines, a good riding style. It was just this: keeping the speed. Session by session I was building my confidence. In warm-up I saw I was really fast with used tyres. when I did that perfect start everything was more clear.”
With two podiums from his first four races, Di Giannantonio looks a more complete rider aboard the Kalex chassis. Two years on the Boscoscuro chassis was a fine means to learn. But now he has the package to challenge overall. “(In 2019 and ’20) I pushed so hard with the bike and the team I had. It was a really good bike. but on our bad day, we had 20 bikes that were better than us. It was a bit harder to manage the consistency during the year. Now I have all the things together, it’s just doing my own thing and being competitive always.”
Bezzecchi back on the boil
It would be ridiculous to say Marco Bezzecchi was in crisis after Portugal. A clear title favourite scored solid points in each of the opening three races. But something was missing to challenge the leading names. “The first three races were good in the beginning and then not very good in the second part. I always started well, but then struggled more with the front and I dropped positions continuously,” he acknowledged.
From the moment he got home from Portugal he set about studying videos of the first free races to understand where he rivals were ahead. “From home, I watched everything I could from Sam (Lowes), (Remy) Gardner, Fabio, Raul (Fernandez) – all the guys that look very strong in the end of the race,” he said. “I started to work with my team from when I got home.” From Saturday morning, Bezzecchi looked like the rider of old. But for an early mistake in the race, he felt he had the pace to challenge countryman Di Giannantonio. His championship challenge starts here.
Sam’s Nervous Energy
According to the old adage success breeds success. But the opposite is also true: disappointment can breed nervousness. An honest Sam Lowes admitted as much after failing to match the leading pair in the first half of the Moto2 encounter. One of the strongest riders through free practice, it was a surprise to see Lowes struggling in fifth after a poor start. “I was a little bit nervous because Portugal ended like that,” he admitted. “I threw an opportunity away there. It was an unnecessary mistake.
“The first part of the race, I wasn’t as free as normal. I was riding a bit tight. I was a bit too cautious. I didn’t feel amazing so it was just about taking a few laps to relax and then come forward again.” Lowes’ late rally was enough to get an important third. And perhaps these nerves were something he would have succumbed to in the past. “I had to finish,” he said. “Now I’ve got something to build on. It was nice toward the end to ride a bit freer and have the speed of these guys (Di Giannantonio and Bezzecchi). Two wins and a third in the first four races is something nice to have and take some momentum.”
Arm pump strikes again
One of the big takeaways from the Spanish Grand Prix was the arm pump which ruined Fabio Quartararo’s race, and very nearly did the same for Aleix Espargaro. But the issue reared its head across the Moto2 class, as well.
A host of names were hampered here, notably two rookies: Raul Fernandez, who was on course to repeat his podium heroics of the first three races, was one. “I want to apologise because, due to some discomfort in my right arm, in the second half of the contest I wasn't able to push and get the best out of our machine,” said an emotional Fernandez after dropping to fifth. Fellow rookie Celestino Vietti was another. He had a mare of a weekend in Jerez, with VR46 Academy mate Luca Marini admitting arm pump was disrupting the Moto2 rider’s rhythm. The added weight of a Moto2 machine becomes notable here, with Jerez offering up few chances to relax. But the issue wasn’t confined to the rookies.
Bo Bendsneyder struggled with compartmental syndrome in Qatar. “We already knew before the race that I would struggle with my arm,” he said on Sunday. “The last 10 laps were really tough, especially on the right corners. I had no power and I cannot ride how I wanted.” He had surgery on Wednesday 5th to get in shape for Le Mans.
Öncü's lucky escape
There was a sense of inevitability to the final corner outcome of the Moto3 race. All race, Deniz Öncü demonstrated all the speed he was known for in the feeder classes where he won races. Here he led twelve of the race’s 22 laps, and was repeatedly faster through the tracks’ second half. His early race impressed team boss Hervé Poncharal. “We know how well he has been working all weekend long, doing every session on his own without following anybody. That helped him a lot during the course of the race, because he was clearly the fastest guy on track, when he was on his own and the only one who could pull the pack.”
Yet at 17, Öncü is still an excitable character. He crashed into team-mate Ayumu Sasaki in last year’s Styrian Grand Prix, his first time at the front of a world championship race. And it was hardly a surprise when he took down Masia and Darryn Binder braking for the final turn. “I was braking like usual, but I couldn’t bring the bike to the first gear, so I was just sliding in the second gear, tried to stop the bike, but just hit Masia and made him crash as well. I’m really sorry for him,” he said after a mistake that sent Acosta 51 points clear in the title race. Hard lines. But, judging by the ghastly mark left by Binder’s brake disc on his neck, Öncü was lucky in the extreme to walk away from this one.
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